Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
Cody Davis is a long-time participant in Grand Valley Adaptive Climbing Club, and has helped to create community with newer participants. Photo Credit: Sloane Milstein
Playing outside is an important part of growing up—there’s a wealth of evidence that time spent outdoors increases resiliency, promotes mental health, and teaches children skills that will help them grow into happy and healthy adults. If your child has a disability, though, it can be challenging to find outdoor activities that are accessible to their needs, and especially group activities that allow opportunities for important social connections and peer support.
We are fortunate to have a number of organizations serving the Grand Junction area that specialize in facilitating affordable activities for kids with disabilities, and their families. This is not an exhaustive list; as you get involved with the local community of adaptive athletes, you’ll find many more opportunities beyond those listed below. Here are a few places to start:
Colorado Discover Ability (CDA) is a well-known local non-profit that specializes in year-round adaptive outdoor recreation programs. In summer they organize rafting trips, cycling, and summer camps that are accessible to all. In winter they pivot to adaptive snowsports with well-qualified instructors who can teach kids to use a sit ski, ski with a vision impairment, and many other types of adaptive snowsports. More information is available at cdagj.org, and CDA also has numerous volunteer opportunities available if you’d like to help out.
Ever heard of hippotherapy? No, there are no hippos involved—it’s actually therapeutic horseback riding, and local organization Harmony Acres Equestrian Center offers this service to both kids and adults with disabilities from their location in Loma. Through their therapeutic horseback riding programs, they use “specially trained instructors and well-trained horses, along with a team of volunteers, [to] work with individuals to target goals that improve physical movements and development, speech, emotional/behavioral regulation, core strength, and mood.” They offer their services on a sliding scale, with the goal of making this unique and wonderful recreation/therapy available to all who might need it. Visit them at harmonyacresec.org to learn more. Other local providers include Grand Valley Equine Assisted Learning Center in Fruita (gvequineassistedlearningcenter.org), Metaphorse in Montrose (metaphorse.com), Dare to Dream in Delta County (daretodreamincorporated.com), and 4 Leg Adventures in Delta County (4legadventures.com) also offer various equine therapy sessions.
Sports are an important part of growing up for a lot of kids, and the social skills and support received through team sports can help your children grow into well-rounded adults. Our local Challenger Baseball team makes the sport of baseball accessible to all kids ages 8 to 18 (or up to 21 if still enrolled in school), with any type of developmental or physical disability. They also get to hang out with the JUCO players once a year, which is a big deal for the baseball fans! Find out more at challengerbaseball.net
If you’re looking for an adventurous (but safe!) activity, check out the Grand Valley Adaptive Climbing Club (GVACC). Accessible to kids and adults of all abilities, this climbing program is prepared with the equipment and expertise necessary to get anyone to the top of the climbing wall. While the events take place indoors, once you and your child are more comfortable with climbing it will allow you to pursue outdoor climbing programs through organizations like Adaptive Adventures, which usually organizes at least one ice climbing trip each year in Ouray. GVACC typically meets on the third Thursday of every month at the Grand Valley Climbing gym on 25 Road, but the schedule can fluctuate—check the Facebook page for the exact date each month: facebook.com/GrandValleyAdaptiveClimbingClub
Regardless of the type of activity your children are interested in, we’re very lucky to have a lot of organizations doing great work in our community to make athletics and the outdoors available to every kid, of any ability level. Take advantage of all that’s offered, and help your kids grow into happy and healthy adults surrounded by a network of their peers!
Nothing like the thrill of catching a big one- even if it is a carp!
Whether you’re a lifelong angler, or you’ve never picked up a rod and reel in your life, fishing can be a great way to spend time with your family and get outside to enjoy nature. What better way to spend a morning, or a whole day, than hanging out by a lake or river with a picnic and your kids, enjoying the chance for quiet and conversation? It can also be great for kids who are learning some life skills like patience, and the rewards thereof. Additionally, fishing is a fantastic way to teach kids about the fish, their habitat, their interaction with other plants and animals in the ecosystem, their life cycle, and so much more. The opportunities for outdoor education are endless!
As far as new outdoor activities go, fishing also has a fairly low barrier to entry. If you’re just starting out you can get a basic fishing rod and reel for about $20, and an adult fishing license for about $46 per year for the first one, and $36 for the second; kids under 16 generally don’t need a fishing license, except under special circumstances (e.g. if they’re planning to use more than one rod at a time, in which case they would need a second-rod stamp). That means that your family could get started with fishing for under $70, which will set you up for almost unlimited days spent by the lake or river. Go to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website (cpw.state.co.us) for a list of locations that sell fishing licenses, or for instructions on how to get your fishing license through the myColorado mobile app.
As you plan your entry to the world of the angler there are some safety considerations when fishing with kids, so plan for these potential issues in advance. Of course the most immediate danger for children is the water itself—make sure your kids are always supervised around the water, and consider having them wear lifejackets even if you aren’t fishing from a boat.
Sun exposure is also a concern, so cover up, use lots of sunscreen, and make sure everyone is staying well-hydrated throughout the day.
Another thing to think about are the fishing hooks—they’re great for catching fish, but they can also catch an unsuspecting bit of skin, or worse, if you’re not careful! There’s a handy device called a Hide-a-Hook Bobber™ that covers up the hook while casting, and it may be a wise investment to prevent any injuries. A sidearm cast is better and safer than an overhead cast for beginners, so if you are going to teach your kids to do their own casting you may want to teach the sidearm technique (there are plenty of YouTube videos available for you to learn, if you’re not sure how). You might also just do the casting yourself, and leave the bobber-watching and fish-reeling up to your kids instead. As long as they have a job, they’ll be happy spending time with you outdoors.
As you get ready for your fishing trip make sure you pack not only the fishing gear you’ll need but also sunscreen, sunglasses and hats, plenty of water, snacks or a full picnic lunch, bug repellant (especially if you’re headed up to the Grand Mesa!), and a first-aid kit. Be prepared for any adverse weather conditions as well, and pack a rain jacket if you’ll be any distance from your vehicle, and warm clothing for the shoulder seasons.
Now the obvious question is, where should you go to find the fish? This is a subject that’s best left to the experts—call or stop in at your local fishing store, and they’ll be more than happy to offer some suggestions well-suited to your kid’s age(s), the kind of fishing you want to do, the time of year, the time of day you plan to fish, and how far you want to drive. The folks at the fishing store have probably been doing it for years and will know your local area the best, and they’ll be excited to help a new generation of anglers get started in the sport. They’ll also be helpful in setting you up with your new fishing gear!
Fishing is an activity that can involve the smallest toddler up through grandma and grandpa, and it’s a great excuse to get everyone outside, enjoying time spent by the water, having a picnic, and getting the whole family chatting. It’s no wonder fishing is one of the most popular activities in the country, and it’s never too late for you and your family to get started. Grab your rod and reel, pack your lunch, and head to the water! It’s guaranteed to be a fun day for the whole family.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. Your whole family may be feeling the stress caused by changes in your normal routine, not being able to see the people you care about, and the stress and uncertainty that comes with economic instability and social change.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to stay connected with the calming influence of the natural world. But in these times of physical distancing, how can you and your family get out in nature while staying safe? Here are a few ideas for maintaining your mental and physical health in the outdoors turning adversity into opportunity during these strange times.
Explore Somewhere New
A lot of people are home from work right now and the usual standby trails and natural areas are often more crowded, even on usually-quiet weekdays and off-times. This is a great opportunity to find a new, out-of-the-way place to explore the great outdoors. Is there some tucked away trail or park (near home) that you’ve been meaning to explore, but just never made the trip? Make that your destination for the day!
Remember, we shouldn’t be traveling outside of our home areas at this time to avoid spreading COVID-19 to other places, but if there’s a trail within an hour or so of your home base, that’s a reasonable effort to make in order to get away from the crowds and find somewhere new to explore. You can find some of these trailheads on Friends of Youth and Nature’s website under map resources: https://www.friendsofyouthandnature.org/maps.html
Find the Hidden Gems
Nature is everywhere, and even that overgrown open space near your home can hold a lot of interest and educational opportunity. Take the kids out for a grasshopper survey - how many different kinds can you find? What’s the biggest one, or the smallest one, and why might they be different sizes? Which one is the most common? Why do you think that might be?
Take a small shovel and dig into the dirt to see what you find. Are there worms, or pill bugs? Are you finding more in one place than you find somewhere else? Why do you think that is?
How many different kinds of grass or plants in general can you find in the field? Do some have interesting smells? Are there certain plants that seem to have a certain kind of insect, and why do you think the insects like that plant?
Whatever you come up with, you’ll be surprised at your childrens’ imagination, and how much interest and entertainment can be found in a seemingly overgrown, “boring” plot of grass and shrubs.
Get Out in the Sunshine
It’s no secret that a little sunshine can really turn around your mood. With a lot of stress in the world right now, make sure you take time to just simply get outside (and get away from the news headlines and computer!). Put on some sunscreen, and go out with the family into your backyard, even if it’s just for thirty minutes or an hour. Reading in the sunshine is one of life’s little pleasures. Are you home-schooling right now? Take your lessons outside for some fresh air. Plant a garden and discover more about plant life cycles. Throw a ball and see who can create the highest arc. Play fetch with the dog. Which item does “Fido” like to fetch the best? Wrestle in the grass; is it warmer or cooler at ground level? Be a big kid, have fun while you learn, and enjoy the free time you might have right now! Now’s a time to make memories with your family, and help create some positive experiences that will last a lifetime.
It’s too easy right now to stay glued to the news, watching and dissecting every little development. Pile that on top of being cooped up inside, and away from the friends and family you normally see, and you have a recipe for stress, strife, and negativity. Get outside! Have fun! Make the effort to maintain your connection with the natural world throughout this time, and your whole family will be happier as a result. It’s up to you.
At 8 years old I was slogging my way up the trail behind my parents, tired and disgruntled. “I hate hiking,” I thought. “Why would anyone want to walk uphill for hours for no good reason? I could be watching TV right now.”
Finally, we reached the top. Out came the lunch we’d packed, and we sat on a peaceful summit admiring the view and enjoying our hard-earned lunch, which tasted so much better after the work we’d just put in. Maybe this “hiking” thing wasn’t so bad, after all!
As an adult I enjoy hiking, climbing, mountain biking, camping, skiing, and pretty much anything else that gets me outside and breathing hard in the fresh air of Colorado. It’s how I stay fit, and even more than that, it’s how I maintain my happiness and mental health through the stress of running a business and staying involved with my community. I know that time spent in the outdoors is a huge part of what makes me a whole person.
But what impact, in a quantifiable sense, did my early introduction to the outdoors have on who I’ve become as an adult? How has it affected me physically, mentally, emotionally—and even morally? As it turns out, there’s actually hard science we can look at when seeking to connect childhood exposure to outdoor activities with these long-term outcomes.
It’s no secret that children are more often neglecting physical, outdoor forms of play in favor of the digital world. Computers, mobile devices, video games—all these new types of entertainment have been designed with an express focus on activating the reward centers of the brain in order to increase the devices’ use, and even to create dependence in their users. One of the main struggles for parents in the modern age is reducing kids’ screen time.
These digital temptations are purely passive forms of entertainment, and they don’t promote physical coordination, strength, endurance, or any of the other attributes necessary for a healthy body. Outdoor play, on the other hand, encourages all of these things, and it is a natural method of encouraging this kind of physical activity in young people.
A 2015 metanalysis of studies regarding the effects of time spent outdoors on children found that, “outdoor time is positively related to physical activity and negatively related to sedentary behaviour in children aged 3–12 years.” The more outdoor time children have, the more physical activity they take part in and, conversely, the less sedentary behavior they display.
Like myself, many adults spend time recreating in the outdoors because it brings them a sense of happiness and well-being. We could look at this from a historical perspective; humans are animals, and the natural environment would certainly seem more conducive to our mental health than the business and overwhelming stimuli of a big city. And if adults, who have had their whole lives to grow 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 environs as well.
Unsurprisingly, a 2018 study showed that the more time children spent in nature and the greater sense of connection that they personally felt with nature, the less likely they were to experience psychosomatic symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, headache, stomach ache, backache, etc. The benefits started with as little as 30 minutes of outdoor activity per week, and peaked at around 14 hours per week.
Morality and Stewardship:
Physical activity, cognitive development, even emotional well-being—these things are relatively easy to quantify in research. But what about something like an individual’s moral drive to preserve natural areas, or their innate desire to be good stewards of the land? Can we quantify these outcomes?
As it turns out, we can! Though it’s more difficult to show a correlation between time spent in the outdoors during childhood and an individual’s likelihood to become a good environmental steward, it has been shown that the amount of time spent in the 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.
So, the more time we can get future generations to spend in the outdoors, the greater sense of connection they’ll feel with nature, and the more likely they will be to work at environmental stewardship and preservation.
Through personal experience and anecdotes, it can sometimes seem obvious that time spent in nature by children is a valuable thing in and of itself. But it is so impactful that research has similarly been able to show quantifiable, real-world effects from time spent outdoors on children’s physical and mental well-being, as well as their likelihood to internalize messages of environmental stewardship and the importance of preserving natural areas for the future.
At Friends of Youth and Nature, we believe strongly in both the individual impacts that activities in nature have on each young person, as well as the broader long-term goal of creating another generation who feel strongly about the importance of maintaining and safeguarding our public lands for the benefit of all.
Our goal is to continue supporting programs that have both a personal and philosophical impact on the future of our natural areas, in order that we and future generations may enjoy these spaces for many years to come.
 Gray, Casey, et al. “What Is the Relationship between Outdoor Time and Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, 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.
 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.
Blogs for Spring!
5 simple ways to get your kids gardening (3/21)
Kids in the garden, Oh Yeah! (8/20)
Ethnobotany with kids (10/20)
Keeping your family connected to nature (4/20)