Taking your young children into the great outdoors can feel a little daunting. It’s easy to fear the worst: rogue wildlife, getting lost in the woods, insect swarms, and other screenplay-worthy scenarios make colorful movies but only rarely happen in real life.
Twin Cities Kids Club, together with the Eastman Nature Center, is here to open up a natural world of wonder right here in the metro area. Taking the kids out into our natural world is a breeze with our botanical blend of city and nature preserves.
Getting out in nature with your kids teaches them about our world and to value our environment for life. Even if both you and your kiddos are nature novices, you can baby-step your way into feeling at home outdoors.
At Twin Cities Kids Club, we work hard (and play hard) to make sure you know about everything naturally kid-friendly in the greater metro area. Join the club for access to exclusive discounts throughout the Twin Cities.
Nature 101: Be prepared
We know you’ve already got your diaper bag or busy bag filled with snacks, extra clothes, diapering supplies, or potty-training “oops” supplies. To enjoy a family day out in the wilds, be sure to pack the following extras:
- Bug repellent (yes, it’s okay to use DEET on children.)
- Hearty snacks, not just Cheerios
- A water bottle for each person in your party
- A sturdy backpack to carry supplies–the over-the-shoulder diaper bag will get annoying if you’re hiking or trying to maneuver around in tall grass or woods
- Front or back infant or toddler carry harness for when the little ones need a break, or for naptime on the move
- Hats with brims for sun protection and further bug protection
- Layered clothing for changes in temps
- A field guide for birds and other wildlife–you can learn about what you see in real-time
Start small and be consistent
If you have big dreams of conquering the five-mile wooded trail near your home on your first foray into the forest, prepare to fail dismally. Acclimating to having fun in nature is best tackled in small bites.
Plan a 30-minute “adventure” to the nearest trail to your home. Invite the kids to amble, look at all the leaves and trees, and to practice walking and talking quietly.
Try a leisurely bike ride on a local path, and let your littles explore their balance on training wheels, a tag-along bike behind yours, or a bike trailer if you want a faster-paced ride.
Stop often at points of interest, hop off the bike trail and check out the flora and fauna that line the pathways. Even slowing down to watch the bees pollinate local flowers is both fascinating and relaxing all at once.
You’ll have a better chance to view animals in their natural homes if you use your inside voices outside. Seeing a flash of yellow on a goldfinch or a flicker of red on a woodpecker is your reward for using good manners in the great outdoors.
Listen as much as you look
When you’re outside for playtime or a woodsy hike, have your toddler count how many different bird sounds they notice, and then look up the calls in your field guide.
The red wing blackbird sounds like “Oh, Kar-EE” and the ovenbird sounds like “teacher, teacher!” Both are common in our region.
You can listen for the snuffling of deer when you cross their territory. Or, try to tell if a squirrel makes the leaves rustle, or something else a little more exotic like a muskrat or river otter.
If you’re hiking or picnicking near a lake, you may hear the splash of ducks or jumping fish. When you look closely at the water’s surface on a calm day, you may even notice a large snapping turtle just beneath, looking for his next meal.
All of these creatures are easy finds in many nature areas in the Twin Cities. We’re so lucky to share our city with our wild friends. Taking your kids outside while they’re small will help them value and enjoy these fascinating animals long after it’s no longer “cool” to hang out with their parents.
Leave nature with a smile
One of our best tips for enjoying nature with your family is knowing when to leave. Watch your kids’ cues for frustration, hunger, and fatigue. A full tummy and a rested body make for more fun out on the trails.
When you visit the outdoors regularly, your stamina and your kids’ endurance naturally expand as everyone gets more comfortable out in the elements. Plus, after trying several activities like walking, hiking, biking, photos, snowshoeing, animal observation, you’ll find a few things that stand out as favorites.
Your favorite outdoor activities become hobbies that excite and delight you, even if there’s a bit of prep involved, or the weather is not always ideal.
Try to leave the natural world while everyone is still having a good time, and they’ll be more likely to want to return soon for more fun.
Visit one of our many nature centers
There’s no better place to begin your outdoor family adventure than one of the many nature centers in Minnesota. The Eastman Nature Center just northwest of the metro in Dayton provides an intuitive pathway to excitement with your children in the great outdoors.
The Eastman Nature Center features a floating boardwalk, miles of hiking and snowshoeing trails, as well as a new nature center for events, programming, and educational opportunities.
You can enjoy bike paths, or watch for trumpeter swans, bluebirds, and wild turkey near Rush Creek. Learn about our native wildflowers with the impressive wild seasonal display at Eastman Nature Center.
Visiting the park is free, as with all other Three Rivers Park District locations. Take advantage of seasonal, budget-friendly programming like Hiking with Santa, or enter a photography contest. Or, just enjoy family time in all of the lush, inviting natural settings.
Join Twin Cities Kids Club for access to discounts, deals, and tips for parenting in the Twin Cities.