Family Nature Adventures: Let’s Go Outside

Studies tell us what most of us know by instinct: Spending time outdoors in nature is good for us.

For children, classroom performance, imagination, and physical and mental health are all improved with regular playtime in nature, yet today’s children spend about half as much time outdoors as kids did 20 years ago.

For all these reasons, the Natural Land Institute is offering a fun, easy way for families to build some outdoor time into their lives this summer. They can do it on their own schedules, at their own pace, and at no cost.

“Family Nature Adventures is an informal but structured way for families to get involved with nature,” says Kim Johnsen, director of marketing and membership at the Natural Land Institute. “They watch a video and then go do an activity together in their backyard or at a local park.”

When at least six of 14 video/activities have been completed, participants can submit a form that qualifies children to earn a Junior Naturalist Badge. They’ll also be entered into a Family Prize Package drawing in August.

“There’s no cost to participate, but we ask families to register so we can email reminders about new videos that are being released each week,” says Johnsen. “Everyone who registers will get a packet of wildflower seeds mailed to them and the first 50 registrants receive a drawstring NLI logo backback.”

Family Nature Adventures runs from June 23 to Aug. 11, but people can register any time before Aug. 11.

New videos with activities are posted weekly on Wednesdays, June 23 through July 14.

The videos are hosted by NLI staff and experts from other local organizations. They’re geared to children ages 2 to 14, although anyone is invited to enjoy them. New this year are subtitles provided in Spanish, and website and event instructions are available in Spanish through a translate button.

Examples of subjects include Buzz and Fuzz – Our Native Bees and Wasps; The Marvelous Monarch Migration from Mexico to the Midwest; Tree Detective! – Forests; Furry Encounters – Mammals; Shells, Scales and Tails! –Turtles of Illinois; Coughing Pellets – Great Horned Owls; Buried Treasure – Groundwater; and Cheerful Charmers – Bluebirds.”

Those who participated last year will find 2021 videos updated, some filmed in different locations, with new subjects added.

“Last year the most-watched video was about wetlands and the second-most popular was about fish,” says Johnsen. “A new addition this year will be Let’s Write About It, hosted by Rockford Poet Laureate Christine Swanberg. There’s also a new visual arts-focused video titled Leaf Lift-Off.”

The complete library of 2020 Family Nature Adventures is available on YouTube.

When the program started in 2015, it was entirely an in-person event. The pandemic forced a new model to emerge last year that didn’t require group activity, and about 1,100 viewers watched the videos. Many families found that the new format works well for them as they work around family vacations, camps and various commitments.

“It still provides some structure so they remember to actually do it, but the time involved is flexible,” says Johnsen. The NLI plans to do the in-person event at Nygren Wetland Preserve next year.

The NLI education and marketing committees and seven local partner groups provide the video learning. This year the partner organizations include Boone County Conservation District, Burpee Museum of Natural History, City of Rockford Poet Laureate Christine Swanberg, Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab & Education, Northern Regional Groundwater Protection Planning Committee, Severson Dells Nature Center, Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries and Welty Environmental Center.

“We believe that when you have positive experiences with nature as a child, you not only grow up wanting to continue spending time in nature, you also want to protect nature,” says Johnsen. “Nature brings joy to children and also to their parents.” ❚