While some kid-friendly summertime favorites may not be on the table this year, nature is always available, and it’s as easy to access as stepping into your back yard. Last spring, parents were asked to wear multiple hats: mom, dad, teacher, meticulous sanitizer and social distancing enforcer.
Let Five Rivers MetroParks pack your summer full of outdoor fun with some easy ways to keep your kids entertained and engaged in all the benefits nature has to offer.
Grow Something from Seed
Whether you choose to plant a tiny pot of herbs, small garden bed or big plot of veggies, gardening is a great way for kids to be active, learn something new and use their senses. According to community gardening coordinator Kate Lowry, Ohio is in zone six, which means it has a medium-length growing season. Visit metroparks.org/natureisopen to find more information about what is optimal to plant and in which month. For more information on gardening, landscaping and more, sign up for MetroParks’ monthly gardening newsletter at metroparks.org/newsletters.
You can spot a variety of birds in Ohio during the warm-weather months. Make a DIY birdfeeder and place it in your back yard to see which birds you attract. Head to your favorite outdoor space, be still and see how many birds you can view. Visit metroparks.org/natureisopen for links to resources and information on Ohio’s native and migrative birds.
Warmer nights with clear skies create a great opportunity to explore the night sky. Download a free astronomy app on your phone — such as SkyView, SkySafari or SkyWiki — to learn more about the stars and constellations. Mark your calendar for August, when the Perseid meteor shower lights up the sky. According to Space.com, you can expect the Perseids to peak in the early hours of August 12, when you can see up to 75 meteors per hour.
Blow Bubbles and See How Far They Float
Bubbles are a go-to for summer fun. Have a friendly competition to see who can make the biggest bubble, the longest-lasting bubble and whose floats the furthest. Out of bubble solution? For the best bubbles, The DIY Network uses 2 cups of hot water, 1/4 cup of dish soap, 1 (0.25 oz) packet of gelatin and 2 tablespoons of glycerin.
Listen for Nocturnal Animals
Heading to your back yard or local greenspace at night is a great way to discover sounds — and maybe even sights — you won’t experience during the day. Let your eyes adjust to the dark and keep your ears open. You may see the glowing eyes of nocturnal animals and fireflies, and hear many insects, birds and other wildlife. Nocturnal animals are primarily active during the night. According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, some native nocturnal animals are opossums, southern flying squirrels, certain species of mice, voles, bats, badgers and racoons.
Go on a Bug Hunt
Warm-weather months are perfect for observing all kinds of insects. While some may think of all bugs as pests, many insects are integral to the environment. For example, bees and butterflies are responsible for pollinating much of our food. In fact, one in three bites of food is either indirectly or directly affected by pollinators, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Visit your favorite nature spots or step into your back yard to flip over rocks, peek at leaves and flowers, and see what’s crawling on trees. Take pictures of your favorite insects and then identify them later by visiting metroparks.org/natureisopen to find helpful links to naturalist smartphone aps and more.
Play Sensory Activities
Parents with early learners can explore nature through sensory activities. Splash in rainwater, make mud pies, touch rocks with different surfaces, smell and touch a variety of flowers and paint with leaves. Important for early learning development, sensory play helps little ones build motor skills, encourages problem solving and builds nerve connections in the brain.
Know Before You Go
While these activities can be done in your back yard or neighborhood, some can also be done in a MetroPark. However, many park amenities were closed due to COVID-19, so visit metroparks.org/covid for the most recent news on closures.
Whenever you and your family are spending time outdoors, follow the CDC’s recommendations, especially for social distancing, so you’re safe and healthy while exploring the outdoors.