After-school field trips to get kids outside on DNR-managed lands

Take your kids out to play and learn on DNR-protected land this autumn. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Allison

Attention parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles! School has started, but that doesn’t mean the recreation fun you had this summer has to end. There’s one school subject your kids can’t experience in the classroom, and it can help your children succeed in their academics and make them happier throughout the year.

Get your kids outside! Lack of nature education and exposure is such a problem for modern urban children that they even have a name for it. It’s called Nature Deficit Disorder, coined by the writer Richard Louv in his 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods”, and we want to provide you with the tools to prevent and battle it.

Studies show activities that put children in nature are very beneficial to their development. Here are some great state-owned Natural Resources Conservation Areas (NRCA) and a Natural Area Preserve (NAP) managed by DNR to take kids to after school to learn about the great outdoors. Make sure to grab your Discover Pass before you go – you’ll need one for each car you take.

Mima Mounds NAP, Olympia
Only 16 miles from downtown Olympia, this beautiful site will delight kids as they develop their own story of the rare mima mound landforms and try to guess where they came from. This 637-acre preserve includes the grassland-covered mima mounds and oak woodland savannah. Your kids will enjoy an interpretive trail system including a paved, ADA accessible ½ mile loop, and two longer gravel paths to the north and south of the paved loop. The interpretive center includes full color signs with information on geology, mima mound hypotheses, prairie ecology, and Native American use, including introduced fire. Site stewards are available by request to lead group tours. Staff may be available for educational field trips as time permits. Some people believe that small pocket gopher built the mounds through many generations of best building! What stories will this natural wonder inspire in your kids?

Dishman Hills NRCA, Spokane
This 530-acre nature reserve just east of Spokane is the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic or troop trip with kids. This area was dramatically sculpted by the great Glacial Lake Missoula floods and is guaranteed to wow children. View some trails where you can enjoy wildlife, rare species of plants, and spectacular geological features.

Lake Loise NRCA, Bellingham
Located near Bellingham, this 138-acre site has exceptional biological diversity, ranging from bogs and wetlands – including a large and very active beaver pond – to many different species of native trees, some with old growth characteristics. This area offers great opportunities for environmental education and low-impact recreation. Adjacent to Lake Louise NRCA is the 248-acre Stimpson Family Nature Reserve, managed by Whatcom County. Between the two, the area offers more than 4 miles of hiking trails and a number of interpretive signs to enhance the experience.

West Tiger Mountain NRCA, Seattle
This 4,430-acre NRCA lays 35 miles east of Seattle and protects a vast variety of rare ecosystems and many species of native western Washington wildlife. Children can delight in knowing they are walking through the habitat of deer, cougar, bobcats, black bear, coyote, elk, red-tailed hawks, osprey, owl, and woodpecker. This area is an excellent outdoor classroom with an education shelter, interpretive displays, and accessible trails.

Learning outdoors is not only fun for kids, but it can help them excel in other school subjects as well. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Allison.

Less than a quarter-mile from the parking area is the beginning of the ‘Zoe and the Swamp Monster’ interpretive trail. This short relatively flat trail has a series of interpretive panels that tell a wetlands story. The story and illustrations were written by a 5th grade class in order to explain the benefits of wetlands to children. Check out more fun family forest walks at Tiger Mountain here.

Head into nature today! Studies show that nature exposure and education can help students excel in classroom subjects as well. The trip can also teach kids about the importance of state-protected rare species and their habitat. So, grab your children (and their friends) and hit the trail. Rain or shine, grab your Discover Pass and head out for some extra-curricular activities!

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