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Teaching Kids about Nature in an Urban Environment

Learning about trees in an urban setting. From mamasmiles.com

When we moved from Massachusetts to California, we trading in our unbelievable half acre backing up onto woods yard for a concrete patio. It has been a big adjustment, and one of the ways the kids and I are coping is by starting a new tradition. Every Friday, we go find some open space where we explore. They don’t have homework on Fridays (thank you, teachers!!!), so we can enjoy our afternoon without any worries.

California has some wonderful national parks that I want to explore with my kids, but in the meantime we have discovered that there are some open park spaces left, even in crowded Silicon Valley. The kids love having space to run around, and they explore the trees, which are very different from those we had in Massachusetts.

Teaching kids about nature in an urban setting. From mamasmiles.com

On one recent outing, we even saw a tree suddenly topple over – thankfully not one we were standing next to! We walked over to look at it, and as I suspected, its roots had been eaten away by termites. Poor tree!

Do you live in an urban area? How do you find ways to connect your children to nature? If you live in Silicon Valley and know of a place we should visit, please let me know!

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MaryAnne lives is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

23 thoughts on “Teaching Kids about Nature in an Urban Environment”

  1. What’s your favorite find so far? J loves climbing trees. His school has been really good about teaching about nature and gardening too.

    We love biking, even in our urban area. He started biking home with me before I gave up biking (two weeks ago). Our favorite is biking to the (“stinky”) Baylands. There are so many different birds! The fourth of July at the Baylands was so much fun, watching the birds then the sunset, and then the fireworks, but it does get crowded!!

    1. I’ve been to Baylands, but I need to take the kids. We also walked around Shoreline Lake, and Stanford campus. I am still working on teaching my kids to ride their bikes!

  2. What I love about where we live now are the opportunities to get out into nature. Even when there are two feet of snow on the ground, someone’s always cross-country skiing or sledding. We get a lot of snow, so if we were afraid of the cold we’d all go nuts :)

  3. You meant, of course, moving from MA to CA – Oops :) We were just talking yesterday how much we wish we had a more “wild area” within walking distance for the kids to roam in. Alas, Silicon Valley is mostly too “urbanized”, so driving is required. I am glad you find ways to enjoy nature!

  4. Well, luckily after we moved we have open space right behind our apartment :) I really need to take him there more often :) Thanks for the reminder :)

  5. Yes! I live in an urban area, and our respite comes in the way of parks. The one in front of our house is gorgeous because it has a trail and large expanses of grass to run on as well. And really interesting trees.

    This is a great reminder MaryAnne. I used to be really good about taking my eldest to nature outings, but since the twins, it’s been harder. I just might take him somewhere this weekend :)

  6. Have you looked at the National Parks website? I was really surprised to find a ton of protected areas in NYC for us to visit. I lived in Palo Alto for a brief time and loved Shoreline. There was also an area that I used to hike, but I can’t remember its name. I suspect much has changed in 20 years, though.

  7. We are so very blessed! We have a huge backyard and the kiddos play outside and explore every day. They loooooove their backyard and experience so many natural adventures.

    And just down the hill from us is the best small town park in the world. Clear spring waters, fish, ducks, deer, playground areas. Just fabulous.

    I can only imagine the adjustment for your children. My kiddos always express their love for their backyard!

    1. Great idea, Mia! There are actually some edible fruits that we like to forage off of some local arbutus strawberry trees. A very fun and educational experience for the kids!

  8. That is such a big adjustment for all of you but I love the way you are handling it with your Friday explorations. I also love these photos and the way your kids seem to be contemplating the trees – beautiful!

  9. I don’t know about California, but the Australian Department of Conservation publishes these handy little full-colour booklets that contain information about different flora and fauna. For instance, we have one about local birds, one about waterbirds, one about insects, one about trees, and one about geology… there are many more as well. Full-colour detailed photographs on one page, and the facing page has the latin name, usual habits and habitat, where they are found, etc. They are available from tourist information kiosks, the zoo, and other places like that (we found our first few in a secondhand shop!). These have greatly enhanced our knowledge of this new country and the wildlife right in our little back yard!

  10. I bet it is challenging to find ways to explore nature in an urban setting that’s different than what you had. When we lived in Connecticut, we went to the park a lot!

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