Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
A few minutes outside can work wonders for your kids' stress levels and overall feeling of well-being. There are lots of quick hacks to get your kids outside for 20 minutes- like hosting a mud party! (Photo Credit: Shutterfly.com\Christin Lola)
It’s a new school year, with potentially lots of changes for your children: starting elementary, middle or high school, or maybe a new school altogether; figuring out class schedules; getting to know teachers or a new friend group; feeling overwhelmed with assignments and new routines. This time of year can be stressful for young people. Here is a great antidote: 20 minutes outside!
Our friends over at Generation Wild (Great Outdoors Colorado) compiled a fantastic list of ideas for quick 20 minute activities to get kids active and outdoors. A few minutes outside can work wonders for your kids’ stress levels and overall feelings of well-being.
Here are just a few of the 20 ideas for 20 minutes outside from Generation Wild:
It’s not always easy to get kids to turn off the computer or put down the game controller. So how do you get them to play outside? Here are a few tried-and-true strategies that will actually help get them off the couch and out the back door.
Try relocating their favorite indoor activity to the outdoors. Nudge them to read, draw, or play with their favorite toy outdoors in the fresh air. Being in an outdoor environment is an entirely different experience—it may encourage them to “play” in a new way.
Make outdoor time into family time. Sometimes kids just want to spend time with their parents and other loved ones. Taking walks, having picnics, and making park visits together are all great ways to incorporate Mother Nature into your family routine.
A little variety can spice up outdoor time. We have the best backyard here on the Western Slope of Colorado, so consider exploring a bit farther–farms, forests, mountains, and lakes. This gives kids different ways to experience and think about the outdoors. The same place can be completely transformed during different parts of the year or even different times of the day.
The more the merrier! Kids inspire other kids. Adding a friend to the mix might be just the nudge needed to inspire their inner adventurer to come out. This strategy is especially effective with older kids.
Playing outdoors makes for more capable, knowledgeable, and self-sufficient youth. And, an independent youth is a safer one. Start your kids’ outdoor independence by taking small steps, like playing in the backyard while you observe them. Before you know it, they will be running all over the neighborhood, just like you used to do.
If we all spend a little more time outdoors in our neighborhoods, we’ll make more friends, know more about one another, and create communities that parents and kids feel comfortable in. It’s a simple idea that will benefit everyone.
For older kids and you, time outdoors is invaluable in helping to reset thoughts and priorities and dispel frustrations or anxieties from work or school and recharge yourself. A run or bike ride along a river or a walk with a friend can be revitalizing and a brief escape from troublesome issues. Encourage your teen to engage in an outdoor game like Frisbee golf, Ultimate Frisbee, or try a new outdoor sport like climbing or paddling with a SUP.
You don’t have to have all the ideas. That’s where Generation Wild comes in. Follow Generation Wild on Instagram and Facebook, and you will get all kinds of ideas and inspiration to get your kids outdoors. Check out “The List” of 100 things every kid absolutely has to do before they are 12 (generationwild.com/the-list). The list has some great ideas for time outside, like digging up worms, dancing in the rain, skipping rocks, tubing down a creek, catching a crawdad, and more. If you are a kid at heart, you may be surprised at how many things you can already check off!
Through Generation Wild, you can also connect with more than 250 incredible partners around the state that host outdoor activities and youth programming. Friends of Youth and Nature’s Provider Page also has a list of providers who engage kids in outdoor programs and environmental education activities by county (Delta, Mesa, and Montrose).
There’s a lot to discover out there. While you are having so much fun playing outside with your kids, think of all the benefits they are getting from hanging out with you in nature.
Summer is a great time to play outside. Some games are timeless like hopscotch, jump rope, tag, hide-and-seek, Simon Says and Red Light-Green Light. While playing these games not only do kids disperse energy but they are enhancing their muscle strength, endurance, stability, balance, coordination, cardiovascular fitness and physical agility.
In today's fast-paced, technology-driven world, children are often immersed in screens and disconnected from the natural world. However, the allure of outdoor games remains as strong as ever! Suggesting a simple game of tag or hide and seek with your child is sure to pump up their excitement and get them off the couch! Outdoor play contributes a wealth of benefits to your child’s holistic development including physical health, social skills, and various cognitive skills like reasoning, remembering, imagining, and using language. The power of outdoor games cannot be overstated. Let’s explore how outdoor games benefit our children.
Engaging in outdoor games means movement and physical activity! Running, jumping, climbing, and throwing are the primary building of children's physical fitness. Outdoor games promote these gross motor skills, along with eye-hand-foot coordination, balance, and strength. The unpredictability of outdoor play requires quick thinking, concentration and decision-making. Children learn to adapt to changing circumstances, analyze risks, and develop strategies on the fly
Outdoor games provide a dynamic and stimulating environment for children. Not only do they received a good dose of fresh air, and sunlight, opportunities abound for them to exercise their five senses through observing the sounds, smells, textures and colors found in nature. Outdoor games fuel their curiosities about their surroundings and may encourage them to explore more and foster a love for nature
One of the greatest benefits of outdoor games lies in their ability to foster social interaction and communication skills. When children play outdoors, they engage with peers, siblings, or neighbors, leading to improved social competence. Outdoor games encourage teamwork, cooperation, negotiation, and conflict resolution as children work together towards common goals. They learn to share, take turns, and respect each other's boundaries. These interactions lay the foundation for building positive relationships and developing essential life skills that extend beyond the realm of play.
Outdoor play has a profound impact on children's emotional well-being. Physical activity releases endorphins, the "feel-good" hormones, which reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. The freedom to run, jump, and explore in the natural environment provides an outlet for pent-up energy and fosters a sense of joy and happiness. Outdoor games also encourage children to take calculated risks and face challenges, promoting resilience and building self-confidence. The connection with nature during outdoor play promotes a sense of calmness, mindfulness, and overall emotional balance.
The vast outdoor environment serves as a canvas for children's imagination and creativity to flourish. In this unstructured space, they can transform a simple patch of grass into a magical kingdom or turn fallen leaves into treasure. Outdoor games encourage imaginative play, storytelling, and the creation of imaginary worlds. Children develop problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and the ability to think outside the box. Unleashing their creativity in outdoor games nurtures their ability to envision, innovate, and appreciate the beauty of the natural world.
Outdoor games are the first step in promoting a livelong enjoyment of an active lifestyle. In an era dominated by screens and structured activities, recognize the value of free-form outdoor play is essential. By encouraging children to embrace the joy of outdoor games, we not only support their overall well-being but also cultivate a generation that appreciates nature, values physical activity, and possesses the necessary skills to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
Some examples of outdoor games that are beneficial to children's health include:
Tag, the classic outdoor game promotes cardiovascular fitness and agility. Children engage in running, chasing, and evading, which helps improve endurance and motor skills. It also enhances reflexes, coordination, and spatial awareness. Evening flashlight tag is also a fun escape from the heat of the day.
Hide-and-seek encourages children to be physically active while developing problem-solving skills. Running, hiding, and seeking help children build strength, balance, and coordination. It also enhances cognitive abilities as they strategize and make decisions during the game. Try playing it at night for added excitement.
Capture the Flag is an exciting team-based game that promotes teamwork, communication, and strategic thinking. Players must work together to capture the opposing team's flag while defending their own. The game involves running, dodging, and coordination, improving cardiovascular fitness and physical agility.
Red Light, Green Light is a game that helps children develop listening skills, self-control, and physical coordination. Players move forward on the "green light" command but must freeze when the leader says "red light." This game encourages bursts of physical activity followed by periods of stillness, promoting a balance between energy expenditure and self-regulation.
Simon Says is a game that combines listening skills, physical activity, and following instructions. The leader gives commands prefaced with "Simon says," and players must follow them. This game enhances children's listening abilities, motor skills, and body awareness.
Hopscotch is a game that improves balance, coordination, and motor skills. Children jump, hop, and skip through a series of numbered squares, enhancing lower body strength and stability. It also promotes spatial awareness and counting skills.
Jump rope is a classic outdoor activity that boosts cardiovascular fitness, endurance, and coordination. Children can engage in various jump rope games, such as single jump, double Dutch, or skip counting, which provide an enjoyable way to improve overall physical health.
Tug of War is a team-based game that develops strength, teamwork, and coordination. Children divide into teams and compete by pulling a rope in opposite directions. This game enhances upper body strength, grip strength, and cooperative skills.
Soccer or football is a popular team sport that enhances cardiovascular fitness, coordination, and teamwork. It involves running, kicking, passing, and strategizing.
Every child loves obstacle courses. Crawling under obstacles, climbing over structures, balancing on beams, and jumping through hoops improves coordination, strength, endurance, and promotes problem-solving skills.
Several outdoor games help improve eye- hand coordination and can engage many people of all ages at summer family gatherings: ladder ball, cornhole, croquet, bocce ball, badminton, and Frisbee.
Embrace the wonders of outdoor play and unlock the immense potential of unbridled joy, active bodies, imaginative minds, and social skills in your children. Let them run, laugh, explore, and make lasting memories in the great outdoors with their friends and families and watch your children bloom into confident, well-rounded individuals. They will feel ready to conquer the world!
Several teachers practiced outdoor survival skills- making a fire and building a shelter at a
CPW sponsored teacher workshop on the Grand Mesa National Forest.
One of the best aspects of being in Colorado, especially on the Western Slope of Colorado, is being outdoors. Public lands are just a short drive for most of us providing fantastic outdoor access. As you head out this Spring to hike, bike, hunt, fish, bird watch, camp, and participate in many other activities, a few proactive things can help you avoid trouble and have a great time. Undoubtedly, you have heard this advice many times before but a little forethought and planning will make your outings safer, and often more fun. Some important planning considerations are:
After planning, the next proactive thing to do outdoors is use good judgment. I survived a few serious incidents early in life and learned from them, but they could have had much worse outcomes. These included a poor choice of time of day to start up a fourteener! I made the decision to abandon my high-elevation goal for the day and luckily avoided having an emergency. Know your limits based on knowledge or physical condition, and acclimatization to the altitude. If you are new to being outdoors, having an experienced mentor is one great way to have a successful and fun start. They have already learned a lot about preparation and decision making in the outdoors and they likely want to share their experiences.
When venturing outdoors, ALWAYS tell someone where you are going. If you should get lost, stay put in an area with shelter nearby and call or signal in a way to be seen/heard at a distance. By staying in the same safe area, you will use less energy and be closer to your last known location. Be aware of how alcohol or other substances can affect your judgment. Finally, watch the weather and if it changes dramatically, pay attention! It is always the best choice to play it safe, enjoy the experience you’ve had and save the rest for another day. Remember: the mountains, streams, trails, and lakes will still be there when you return in better conditions!
Students use a nature guide to help identify the bird in hand. The Black Canyon Audubon Society volunteers host a learning station featuring taxidermy bird specimens to help students learn about bird adaptations to their environment and food sources, and how to identify birds likely observed in their neighborhoods during the North Fork Conservation Days (Paonia).
It’s a bit like speed dating for adults only this event involves quick learning interactions for kids. Springtime environmental education events are ways for elementary students to engage with natural resource experts to learn as much as possible in a short period. Each dedicated specialist has 20-25 minutes to engage elementary students about their area of expertise with hands-on activities and tips about their jobs. Students rotate through 8 to 9 stations in a day to learn about many topics, such as how forests contribute to healthy watersheds, how various aquatic insects indicate water quality, what kinds of items can be recycled, and much more. Montrose, Grand Junction, and the North Fork Valley all have festivals organized and sponsored by many organizations, partners, and volunteers who work together to provide this opportunity for the youth of these communities.
Presenters, mostly natural resources experts from various agencies, explain aspects of their field that most kids, and even some adults, never think about. As an added bonus, students get insights into various natural resource careers. “These can be defining moments for young minds that may influence their choices for a lifelong passion or a future career path,” says Anita Evans of Friends of Youth and Nature, one of the funding contributors to the event.
For the last 30 years, fourth graders from the Uncompahgre Valley have attended the Montrose event organized by the Shavano Conservation District. The Natural Resource Festival (previously known as the Water Festival) draws approximately 450 -500 students each year. This May students headed to Baldridge Park for a full day of fun learning activities. “Classes rotate through 9 learning stations, out of 29 featured at the festival, and engage in activities that demonstrate the connections between their lives and the resources they depend on. Activities are focused on all of our natural resources, with an emphasis on water connections in their lives,” explains Mendy Stewart, Education Specialist for the Shavano Conservation District, and festival organizer.
“The activities are meant to be ‘hands-on’, where kids really get in the mix of things,” Stewart added. A wide array of resource topics and activities are featured such as: demonstrating how river water is treated before being sent to our faucets, making play-dough watersheds and determining where the rivers and lakes form after a simulated rainstorm, making your own recycled paper, panning for silver while learning about Colorado’s Mining history with the Colorado Department of Reclamation and Mine Safety, practicing moving water through irrigation pipes with the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users, measuring the flow of a nearby stream with a Colorado Water Commissioner and putting their math minds to work figuring the rate of flow in cubic feet per second (cfs). Other activities help kids to learn things like “Leave No Trace” and how to minimize impacts when exploring nature.
The Colorado State Forestry Department sets up an experiment where students predict the amount and quality of rainwater runoff between two watersheds (actually dirt-filled culverts), one with plants and one with bare soil. After predicting the outcome of a rainstorm, the students learn how plant cover works to slow runoff, so it can be absorbed within the watershed. “This is a huge benefit to water quality, catching soil and pollutants before they reach rivers,” explains Tanya Banulis, Colorado State forester. Dave Dearstyne, retired Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) soil scientist, focuses students’ attention on detecting some of the millions of microorganisms living in our soil. Who would think to look that closely at dirt?
This event involves a lot of planning and behind-the scenes work such as pre-festival classroom presentations and festival logistics. The festival's successes are attributed to the dedication of Stewart and the supporting host agency, the Shavano Valley Conservation District. Festival supplies, student transportation, and festival planning are made possible through matching funds to the Shavano Conservation District received from the Colorado State Conservation Board. The goal of this program is to help Conservation Districts in Colorado implement conservation projects and educational activities. In addition to the festival, the funds have also made conservation education available to San Miguel, Ouray, and Montrose County students. The activities also include source pollution presentations, 9th grade Mancos Shale Soil Salinity Experiments, and 5th and 6th grade conservation poster contests.
Stewart says these events, “...inspire learning opportunities for Western Slope students who will be part of an outdoor savvy generation. We hope they will be empowered to use what they learn to influence future decisions about land and water uses that benefit our planet now and in the future.”
Some kids take time to reflect about what they learned during the festivals; others are super excited and cannot stop talking about the day. Parents or relatives can encourage more discussion or help reinforce significant concepts kids learned. Ask your child what learning station impressed them the most? Here are a few questions that will help you start a discussion with your student:
What can you tell me about the Gunnison or Colorado River’s journey to the ocean?
What type of water bugs will you find in your favorite fishing spot?
How fast is the river near you flowing this spring?
What are the components of a beehive?
How can you harness solar power? Can you use it to make a fruit smoothie or baked good?
What should you put into your community’s recycle bins?
What foods are produced locally and where can you find them?
Friends of Youth and Nature is a non-profit promoting opportunities for youth and families to get outside, experience outdoor activities, and explore nature. Your donations as well as grants received by FOYAN from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable (DNR- Colorado Water Conservation Board) and Forever Our Rivers (Connecting Rivers and Communities) have enabled FOYAN to contribute funding for these festivals.
Searching for fossils in the sedimentary rock layers at the Dominquez-Escalante National Conservation Area located between Grand Junction and Delta. (Photo Credit: Anita Evans).
What kid hasn’t had some sort of rock collection? Discovering hidden gems is always a treat. Western Colorado is perfect for exploring geology with your kids. Look around − there is evidence of eons of geological happenings everywhere!
Geology is an Earth science that investigates how the Earth formed and changes over time. Through studying rock layers, geologists learn about the past and reconstruct the puzzle of Earth’s history. The Earth is a mind boggling 4.5 billion years old! This ruler helps to grasp the age of the Earth. Each inch on the ruler stands for 375 million years (375,000,000 years). Because the numbers are so large, scientists use abbreviations for a billion years (BY) and a million years (MY). Major events in the Earth’s history are shown above the ruler and geologic ages (eons and eras) are marked below the ruler.
It might appear that the Earth’s surface never changes, but it is changing slowly all the time. Sediments, such as sand grains and clay, are deposited horizontally and then squeezed down by more sediment deposited on top. Over time, these layers turn into sedimentary rock with the oldest layers at the bottom and younger layers on top. These rock layers constantly change over time, and with heat and pressure form metamorphic and igneous (volcanic) rock. Melting or molten rock below the Earth’s surface builds up and breaks through older rock layers to form volcanoes. Metamorphic rock is formed when volcanic or sedimentary rock layers are buried and their structure changes under pressure - this is how diamonds are formed! Earthquakes occur when the Earth’s crust moves on the molten mantle like meringue on the surface of a lemon meringue pie. Cracks in the crust, called faults, can cause the Earth’s crust to move, fold, and tilt through a process called plate tectonics. Colliding plates can create mountain ranges and reshape the Earth’s continents. As the plates slowly shift across the globe, volcanoes and earthquakes represent the immense power at play. External events such as landslides and water or wind erosion wear down mountains, depositing the sediments downstream.
Check out the last 1.6 inches of the 12-inch ruler (the Phanerozoic Eon). We know more about this time than any other in Earth’s history and we know that life was abundant! Many strange creatures swam, crawled, and flew across this corner of Colorado. The story of these ancient creatures and where they lived are told by their fossils or impressions, bones, footprints, shells, petrified wood, and even fossilized feces, called coprolites, left behind in the rock layers.
The present is the key to the past – this is the first lesson in geology, which means geologic events we observe today took place in the past. Volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, ocean tides, winds, gravity, as well as sedimentation and erosion likely behaved similarly throughout time in shaping our landscapes. Glacial ice advances then melts; wind and water erode mountains until they are flat; valleys fill with rock and debris washed down from highlands. The Earth is and was a very dynamic place!
Let’s look a little closer at Colorado’s geologic history. Most of Western Colorado lies within the Colorado Plateau. This high-desert formed millions of years ago when tectonic plates slowly pushed together, uplifting stacked layers of sand, silt, and mud to form the Plateau. Ancient volcanic mountains, plateaus, buttes, deeply carved canyons, and stunning color ranges are the defining characteristics of this region. The plateau is dominated by high mountains gashed by river canyons, dry washes, and intermittent stream beds. Near the southern end of the Plateau, the Grand Canyon has exposed rocks with ages that span almost 2 billion years.
Colorado National Monument was established because of its unique geology. Situated on the Uncompahgre Plateau (part of the larger Colorado Plateau), the monument was shaped over millions of years into colorful, wind-eroded sandstone formations, towering monoliths, and steep-walled canyons. The deeper rock layers span billions of years, with sedimentary layers covering the bottom-most metamorphic layer. Erosion continues to change this landscape with each storm creating wind- and water-sculpted rock formations with shape-inspired names like Window Rock, Pipe Organ, and Sentinel Spire.
The geologic story of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of uplift, volcanism, and the erosive force of water. Large volcanoes erupted on either side of the uplift about 30 million years ago, burying it in volcanic rock. As early as 2 million years ago, the Gunnison River began flowing in force through the soft volcanic rock. Over time, river flows eroded a deep canyon in the metamorphic rock. The canyon, at 2700 feet deep, is one of the deeper canyons in North America.
Another local geologic hot spot is located just outside of Delta Colorado. In the early 1970’s, 150-million year old fossils from the Jurassic period were found in the Dry Mesa Dinosaur Quarry on the Uncompahgre Plateau. One of the most prolific sites of its time, the quarry revealed a unique chain of Upper Jurassic sedimentary rock (Morrison Formation) known for its high yield of dinosaur fossils. What a yield! Over 4,000 bones from 30 different species were unearthed in the Quarry including two new species of dinosaur! Check out this informative activity booklet about the quarry finds developed by the Forest Service: The Jurassic World and Other Exciting Times in the Geological Past of Colorado, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests.
The geologic past of Colorado is a dynamic story and you don’t have to travel far to observe it. Start with a visit to the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita for interactive displays such as an earthquake simulator, a sandbox for making your own dinosaur tracks, and a “quarry site” where kids can uncover actual Jurassic dinosaur bones. There are over 15,000 fossil specimens in its collections. Design your own scavenger hunt to see if your child can find fossils reflecting our region's warm, moist environment (ferns) or when our town was at the bottom of a vast sea (shark teeth and fish fossils). Colorado has been at the bottom of an ocean several times, has been covered by ice, and has seen the rise and erosion of vast mountain ranges long before the Rocky Mountains of today were formed. The rock layers and fossil collections are there to demonstrate it, you just have to get out there and take a closer look!
Here are a few links for fun geology activities for kids:
Spring is the perfect time for canyon hiking. There are plenty of canyons to explore in our local National Conservation Areas (NCAs), our nearby National Parks and Monuments and the Bureau of Land Management Public Lands. Kids love to scramble around the warm rocks looking for cracks and crannnies to explore. This one looks like a perfect fit! (Hannah Freed, Photo Credit: Christine Freed)
Every day the weather seems to be gradually getting a little warmer (in between those spontaneous Colorado snowstorms, at least), and that can only mean one thing—spring is near! The transition from winter to summer activities will be here before you know it, and it’s time to start planning some excursions with your little ones as the trails dry and the warm sun comes out. The benefits of getting outside are numerous, from mental health, to physical health, to just having fun together as a family. Here are a few quick and easy hiking trails that you can enjoy with your whole crew:
The Lunch Loops are always a crowd favorite. Less than 10 minutes from downtown Grand Junction, and with ample parking, access doesn’t get much easier than this. The most accessible trail is of course the paved one—the Monument Trail runs alongside Monument Road all the way from the intersection with Broadway up to the Lunch Loops parking lot, and in 2024 it will be extended all the way up to South Camp Road.
If you’d rather get off the pavement and onto dirt trails instead, there are numerous possibilities at the Lunch Loops. For the very easiest hikes stick close to the parking lot on trails like Short and Cranky or the Kids Meal Loop. For a more strenuous hike head up Tabeguache for an out and back, or take Hop Skip and Jump to Big Sister for a short loop, with a few steeper parts, but rewarding views. Wherever you hike at Lunch Loops just be sure to keep an eye out for mountain bikers and dogs, as there are always a fair number of both on these well-loved local trails.
Heading up towards the Colorado National Monument, a very popular option for a short hike is the Devils Kitchen Trail. Note that there is an entrance fee required, since this is within the Colorado National Monument. This trail can get crowded, but unlike the Lunch Loops, you don’t need to worry about dogs or bikes on the trail since neither are allowed within the Monument. The trail is just under 2 miles, and it’s an out and back (so you’ll come back the same way you headed in); there is some mild elevation gain, but it is very approachable for most casual hikers. If you make it up the full length of the trail, you will be rewarded with beautiful views and some really cool rock formations!
If you’re looking for a hike with a big payoff for your mileage, the Mica Mines Trail should rank high on your list of must-dos. Another out and back trail, this starts at the Bangs Canyon Trailhead up Little Park Road, and takes you about 1.3 miles in (one way) to a very cool historic mica and quartz mine. The glittering, shimmering mica in the rock amphitheater formed by the long-closed mining operation is sure to be a huge hit with the kids! The trail is pretty flat the whole way, so it’s a very easy hike for anyone to enjoy. By the time you’ve reached the mine and made it back to the car, you’ll have hiked about 2.6 miles on flat terrain, which should be approachable for most families. The mine was operated up until the 1950s, and the mica that they were mining at the time was used for manufacturing paints and electrical insulation, so you can build a little history lesson into your excursion!
One of the coolest hikes in the Grand Junction area is the Monument Canyon Trail, with the added benefit of getting to experience the Colorado National Monument without having to pay the entry fee (remember to leave the dogs at home since they aren’t allowed in the Monument). The parking lot for accessing this trail can be found by searching for Monument Canyon Trailhead, as it enters the Colorado National Monument interior, rather than taking you along the upper rim of the Monument. This one can be a bit of a step up in difficulty, being quite a bit longer than the other options, but you can always turn around part way if you don’t want to hike the whole ~5 mile loop. If you do make it all the way, though, the payoff is huge—literally! Aside from a high likelihood of getting to see some desert bighorn sheep, this trail leads, you right up to the incredible Independence Monument rock formation, which towers 450 feet above the desert floor. This formation was first climbed all the way back in 1911 by John Otto, founder of the Colorado National Monument, and shortly thereafter by Beatrice Farnham, to whom Otto was briefly married. If you look for a large, slightly sloping flat rock a few hundred yards northeast of the rock tower, you can still faintly see a giant inscription of the first line of the Declaration of Independence, which was carved into the rock by Farnham.
Venturing a little further afield, the Dominguez Canyon trails can offer a real wilderness experience. About 20 miles south of Grand Junction, the trails here offer a long, flat hike that will take you as far as you’d like to go. The entire Big Dominquez and Little Dominguez Canyon Loop stretches for an astonishing 39 miles, but the vast majority of hikers just travel in as far as they want to go for the day, and then head back out. Little Dominguez Canyon has some very cool historical features, if you’re willing to do about 7 miles of hiking in total. Around 3.5 miles in, a homestead from 1911 has been preserved by the BLM and offers a fascinating look at life over 110 years ago. The house is remarkably well preserved, and the skeletons of old farming equipment are still dotted around the property. It’s really something worth seeing! The whole of Little Dominguez Canyon is beautiful, with astounding rock formations throughout, and it’s not at all uncommon to see desert bighorn sheep roaming along the hillsides.
From the very easiest of hikes, to something a little more adventurous, but still approachable, this should give you a good start as you begin planning for some warm spring days hiking and enjoying nature with your family. Start with something easy and work your way up to the longer hikes, and before you know it you and your kids will be skipping up the most beautiful and rewarding trails on the Western Slope. Get out there and explore, spring is almost here!
Children’s overall health is positively affected by connections to outdoor spaces. This is essential for a healthy balance with technology use.
For the first time in history, most of our children are growing without a real connection to nature. Nature-deficit disorder was first described in 2005 in the book, Last Child in The Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Nature-deficit disorder isn’t a medical diagnosis, but it is a term recognizing an urgent problem. Richard Louv coined the term, and it was recognized by many as a call to action – to save children from losing a connection to nature.
Urbanization and technological advancements are a trend, but the resulting gap between the natural world and children creates concern. Since the recognition of nature deficit disorder, numerous scientific studies have shown that disconnection from nature can result in diminished use of the senses, higher obesity rates, attention difficulties, and a range of illnesses. On average, children ages 8-12 spend 4 to 6 hours a day viewing a screen, and teenagers can spend up to 9 hours with screens, while spending less than an hour outdoors. Regular screen time and deprivation from recreating outdoors leads to mood swings, lower grades, sleep deprivation, a poor self-image, screen dependency, irregular psychological shifts, depression, and lower cognitive function.
Virtual realities can affect a child’s demeanor and outlook on life. One of the goals of social media apps is to maximize the time spent on that interface. Children are immensely vulnerable to this and are susceptible to making screen time a priority in their day. Conflicts over screen time are common between parents and their children - as a parent you aren’t alone regarding this issue! Unfortunately, these conflicts can affect the level of parent engagement with their kids.
Children who engage in too much screen time become less in tune with and more detached from their surroundings. Extreme situations can lead to depersonalization-derealization disorder, a serious medical illness. Children indulging in heavy social media may have reduced creativity and, decision-making ability, and an inability to have authentic interactions.
There is power in conscious decision-making. Parents, relatives, friends, and mentors can help kids make healthy decisions about how they can feed their bodies and brains. Alternatives to watching a video, show or playing a game might include a walk to a park, a play date in a neighbor’s backyard, building a fort, climbing up a tree or a spontaneous scavenger hunt!
One solution is in the magic experiences outdoor spaces can bring. A study in the journal Environment and Behavior demonstrates that children who spend even short periods outdoors see a reversal in fatigue and concentration issues. Indulging in outdoor activities boosts children’s morale, energy levels, perception, and drive. Kids’ experiences recreating in the outdoors gives them a chance to look far beyond a screen and to become immersed in what it is like to live, and belong in the natural world.
Here in Western Colorado, we have many organizations and passionate teachers who are more than ready to assist kids and their families with becoming familiar with the great outdoors. As a parent or guardian, are you looking for a few ideas to encourage your kids to take it outside? Here are a few creative outdoor activities you can do with your kids: Generation Wild suggests 20 ideas for 20 minutes- the magic number for helping kids feel better, 100 things to do before you are 12, backyard hacks – the best things to happen in the backyard since the invention of the BBQ. These ideas are in Spanish and English. There are many fun ways to engage your child with nature. How about sharing the experiences of a new outdoor activity together as a family such as snowshoeing, skiing, or building snow caves? The Nature Connection is hosting a free pop up ski lending day along with lessons on Feb 11 at County Line Trailhead on the Grand Mesa. Your kids will love the extra attention and encouragement of a shared experience with you along with the laughter and conversation. Your kid’s mental and physical health and your family relationships are sure to benefit!
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Health Benefits of Nature
Why It’s So Hard to Feel Like You’re a Good Parent When It Comes to Screen Time… and What You Can Do About It
We are so lucky to live in Colorado, where there is such a wide variety of outdoor opportunities for youth close to home in local state parks and in our vast open landscapes across the state. This past week, the Colorado Equity Grant Board awarded various Colorado nonprofits a total of $1.3 million to help more kids and families experience the outdoors. Here on the Western Slope, Friends of Youth and Nature was awarded a generous grant of $67,180 towards our efforts in getting local youth into outdoor activities. This gift to our citizens is an effort to increase access to the outdoors for our youth and instill stewardship practices of our state's outstanding natural resources in the next generation. In the long run, this investment will increase the health of Coloradans and our communities. The personal benefits gained from outdoor experiences is not a novel concept; there is a plethora of research proving that outdoor activities overall increase individual well-being.
According to Dr. Constance Scharff in Psychology Today, “Children are increasingly spending time indoors engaged with various forms of electronic devices: phones, computers, tablets, televisions, and gaming consoles. There is significant data indicating that time spent outdoors, whether in play, outdoor education or recreation, or even gardening, can have a real and positive impact on mental and physical well-being.”
Author Dr. John J. Ratey in his book, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, discusses how exercise influences the brain on a cellular level. He also talks about how lack of real play does hurt children because they need to use their imaginations to develop creative thinking and problem solving skills. Many outdoor activities require kids to work together and communicate in order for everyone to have fun or to accomplish a common goal. He also describes a bacterium in the soil that increases serotonin in the brain and improves mood. Who knew that getting dirty is a good thing!
There are many activities to do outdoors, including hiking, camping, rafting, paddle boarding, rock climbing, skiing, sledding, orienteering, horseback riding, and raising animals, just to name a few. Some examples of activities and research-proven benefits include:
Gardening – Teaches patience, perseverance and empathy (and don’t forget that special bacterium that increases serotonin levels). According to Dr. Scharff, gardening teaches children about the food cycle and nutrition, provides important life skills, and creates opportunities for children to learn competence, resilience, and community building. There are Junior Master Gardener programs that can be integrated into school curricula or used at home or with youth groups. Children’s gardening programs ignite a passion for good food, provide opportunities for people of all ages to work together, and develop important life skills that can lead to a lifetime of healthy choices. Food produced may be used in home or school settings, or canned for use in the off-season, and the excess can be donated to local food banks.
Walking and talking − Builds conversation skills and helps with the flow of creative thinking. Just taking a long walk outdoors with a friend has many benefits. State and national parks offer a wide variety of outdoor activities for youth and families. These are not necessarily just hikes or camping, but interactive wildlife activities, archaeological explorations, storytelling times, and much more. The park service often coordinates activities and provides special programming for youth groups. Every Kid in a Park is a National Park Service Program to encourage youth visitation to national parks. Every Fourth grader gets a yearlong free family pass to any national park. Visit their website to find out more, and encourage your kids to become junior rangers (www.nps.gov/kids/every-kid-outdoors.htm). Public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have mostly free access with a variety of trails for mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
Bird Watching − Watching any wildlife has its benefits! Observation can help build attention skills while also practicing mindfulness and coping strategies. It also stirs a sense of curiosity in young people. Many birding organizations provide activities and/or mentors to teach children about bird watching. Check into your local Audubon chapter, Colorado Field Ornithologist groups, or the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. National and state parks also offer nature programs that are scheduled or can be requested by contacting them. Audubon Adventure for Kids highlights curriculum and related DIY activities that can be done at home or in a yard or park (www.audubon.org/get-outside/activities/audubon-for-kids). Scavenger hunts are a great way to get kids excited about exploring nature and improve their observation and attention skills. Looking for a bird nest, a cactus flower, a cool rock, or an animal track can be very exciting. Search the internet for nature/outdoor scavenger hunts; you will be surprised with how many come up.
Horses − Studies have shown that working with horses helps children, teens, and adults make significant improvements in the areas of confidence, anger management, empathy, impulse control, self-esteem, PTSD, anxiety, and overall emotional well-being. Did you know that horses can be an emotional mirror to ourselves? Research has also shown that horses recognize and react to human emotions from our body language and facial expressions. Since they are herd and prey animals, they have a strong emotional sense, reflect and respond to the behavior of other horses in the herd. Even playing with your family pet or walking your beloved dog has huge benefits. Speaking of the influence animals have on youth, Meet Wilder! This is a very engaging video you can watch with your kids featuring Wilder. It will inspire them to go outdoors and play (www.generationwild.com/).
Are you looking for something that will help your child build social interaction skills, confidence, problem solving skills, independence, creativity, and emotional well-being? Take them outside! No matter what activity they do outdoors, just getting them outside on a regular basis has so many benefits to them, their families, and our communities.
Outdoor activities can play a crucial role in building resiliency and promoting mental well-being in our youth. A group of kids try a new outdoor endeavor at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
The end-of-year giving season is in full swing, and you’re probably hearing a lot of appeals from nonprofits to help fund their community impacts. There are so many crucial needs in our area, all of which are eminently deserving of your support; in a perfect world we would be able to help with all of the causes, but in the real world you’ll need to make choices about where to contribute your year-end donations in a way that aligns with your ideals, priorities, and your hopes for the future.
I’d like to make a case for the importance of getting western slope kids into outdoor educational and recreational programs as a long-term solution for many of the issues facing our youth, and our community at large.
What impact does an early introduction to the outdoors have on who a child will become as an adult, and how are they affected physically, mentally, emotionally—and even morally as they grow up? As it turns out, we can directly connect childhood exposure to outdoor activities with positive long-term outcomes.
It’s no secret that children are frequently neglecting more physical, outdoor forms of play in favor of the digital world—reducing kids’ screen time is often a major struggle for parents. Computers, mobile devices, and video games are passive forms of entertainment, and they don’t call for physical coordination, strength, endurance, or any of the other attributes necessary for a healthy body. Outdoor play, on the other hand, promotes all of these things, and is a natural method of encouraging physical activity in young people.
A 2015 metanalysis of studies regarding the effects of time spent outdoors on children found, “outdoor time is positively related to physical activity and negatively related to sedentary behavior in children aged 3–12 years'' (Gray, 2015). The more outdoor time children have the more physical activity they take part in and, conversely, the less sedentary behavior they display.
Many people spend time outdoors because it brings them a sense of happiness and well-being. If adults who have grown accustomed to the ways of the modern world still need to get away to nature every now and then to stay happy, surely children must benefit from these quieter natural spaces as well.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a 2018 study showed that the more time children spend in nature and the greater sense of connection they personally feel with nature, the less likely they are to experience psychosomatic symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, headache, stomach ache, backache, and other physical afflictions. The benefits start with as little as 30 minutes of outdoor activity per week (Piccininni, 2018).
As we consider ways to address the increasing prevalence of mental health challenges in young people, including a disproportionately high suicide rate in our area, outdoor activities can play a crucial role in building resiliency and promoting mental well-being in our youth.
Physical activity, cognitive development, emotional well-being—these things are relatively easy to quantify in research. But what about something like the desire to preserve our natural areas, or an understanding of the importance of good stewardship practices for our public lands? Can we quantify these outcomes?
Though it’s more difficult to show a correlation between time spent outdoors during childhood and an individual’s likelihood to become a good environmental steward, it has been shown that the amount of time spent outdoors has a direct correlation with a child’s feelings of connection with nature. This sense of connection with the natural world then has a direct influence on behaviors related to environmental stewardship in children such as, “conserving water, turning out lights, recycling, talking about the environment, and picking up litter” (Andrejewski, 2011). The more time we can get younger generations to spend in the outdoors, the greater sense of connection they’ll feel with nature, and the more likely they will become involved with environmental stewardship and preservation.
As you consider how to distribute your year-end donations in our community in a way that most aligns with your values, know that when you donate to organizations that provide opportunities for local kids to get outdoors for science education and recreational field trips, you’re not only directly contributing to their physical and mental well-being—you’re also helping to raise a generation that will value our natural environment and ensure the preservation of public lands for years to come.
Friends of Youth and Nature (FOYAN) is a non-profit organization that promotes opportunities for youth and families to go outside, experience outdoor activities and explore nature. To contribute through Colorado Gives Day and multiply the impact of your donation, please visit https://www.coloradogives.org/organization/friendsofyouthandnature
Andrejewski, Robert, et al. “An Examination of Children's Outdoor Time, Nature Connection, and Environmental Stewardship.” ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst, Proceedings of the Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium, 2011, https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=nerr.
Gray, Casey, et al. “What Is the Relationship between Outdoor Time and Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Physical Fitness in Children? A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 12, no. 6, 8 June 2015, pp. 6455–6474., doi:10.3390/ijerph120606455.
Piccininni, Caroline, et al. “Outdoor Play and Nature Connectedness as Potential Correlates of Internalized Mental Health Symptoms among Canadian Adolescents.” Preventive Medicine, vol. 112, July 2018, pp. 168–175., doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2018.04.020.
Sniffing around the garden! Students from Delta Country are enjoying the organic smell of soil and herbs in their school garden.
The sound of leaves crunching as you walk through the forest, the feeling of the warm sun on your face, the sight of a mule deer, the smell of a nearby campfire, and the taste of a freshly picked tart apple engage our five senses − sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Together these senses help us get a clear picture of what is happening around us.
Have you ever taken a whiff of some smell that transported you back to a childhood memory? Maybe the smell of basil makes you think of your grandmother’s garden, or the smell of a campfire makes you think of a memorable camping trip. Does the smell of freshly cut grass or alfalfa confirm that summer is here? What smells remind you of autumn − the pungent organic smell of decomposing leaves in the forest, the fresh, moist scent of an oncoming snowstorm or the smell of roasted chili peppers?
Smell is an intriguing sense because of its wiring in our brains. Scents stimulate our olfactory cells, travel on a fast track through our brain’s superhighway of connectivity, and bypass the brain’s switchboard (the thalamus). Smell stimuli go directly to the region of our brain (hypothalamus) involved in detecting threats and stress responses, and hormones are quickly issued to the appropriate places. By going directly to this brain region, our body responds faster to smells, according to Johan Lundström, a neuropsychologist at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden (The Scientist: exploring science and inspiring innovation). Certain smells can quickly trigger a physical reaction within us. For instance, smells can make us feel sick or warn us of danger (fire), or can make us feel hungry if we smell something yummy.
Smell signals also go directly to another region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for forming and recalling memories. A sense of smell is the only fully developed sense a fetus has in the womb, and it is the one that is the most developed in a child until the age of around 10, when sight takes over. A prominent aroma researcher explained that because smell and emotion are stored as one memory, childhood tends to be the period in which you create the basis for smells you will love or hate for the rest of your life. And, like so many things in life, the sense of smell is impacted by aging. Although the cells that make up the olfactory system are replaced as they age and die, just like any cell, the rate of replacement slows after 50 years of age. To keep that keen sense of smell as you age, your olfactory cells need regular workouts, in terms of exposure and variety. It’s a “use it or lose it” kind of thing.
Have you ever felt more calm or relaxed when you breathed in the wonderful smells of a pine forest or the fragrant smells of a flower garden? Studies have also shown that the smells of nature are linked to lower physiological stress (The Scientist: Exploring Life, Inspiring innovation). Even though the sense of smell for adults often operates in the background behind other senses, natural odor stimuli has a swift and direct effect on our parasympathetic system, the processes that allow us to rest and digest. It has the greatest impact on lowering blood pressure and other physiological stress reduction factors.
Our noses can distinguish more than 1 trillion scents, according to new research by the National Institute of Health. The findings show that our sense of smell is far more sensitive than previously thought.
You and your children take in many different smells every single second of every single day. How often do you really consider what you smell, especially while you are exploring the great outdoors with your children?
Here are a few suggestions on how to get your kids to use their noses in nature:
Blogs for Summer!
5 Simple Ways to Get Your Kids Gardening
Ethnobotany with Kids
Hiking with kids: 3 beautiful hikes
Getting outside with kids at local parks
Finding your way in the great outdoors