Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Children and the Revolution in Outdoor Clothing

When I was a little kid, getting dressed for a winter’s day outdoors started with putting on a union suit. My father bought us full-body long underwear, complete with buttoned “trap doors,” from an Army-Navy surplus store. The suits were red, made of wool, and — at least on my skin — terribly scratchy. “If they’re good enough for the 10th Mountain Division,” my father said whenever I complained, “they’re good enough for you.”

If you’re of a certain age, the outdoor clothing you wore as a child may also have had a World War II lineage. Which may mean that you, too, were present at the revolution in outdoor clothing that took place in the latter decades of the 20th century. As we grew into young adults, new petroleum-based fabrics — stretchy, breathable, water-resistant, warm when wet — transformed the outdoor experience. From base layers to outerwear, from our feet to our heads and hands, we bought “technical” clothing that kept us warmer and drier, weighed less in our packs, and didn’t restrict our movement on the slopes or cliffs.

One of the companies in the “technical” clothing vanguard was Patagonia, whose founder, Yvon Chouinard, had revolutionized climbing gear in the 1960s. In 1980 the company introduced long underwear made from polypropylene, a synthetic fiber that had been used in marine ropes and disposable diapers. “Polypro” insulated without absorbing moisture. And though it acquired a fearsome stink after a season of hard use, it didn’t itch. In its company history, Patagonia calls itself “the first company to teach the concept of layering to the outdoor community,” and my consumer’s experience backs up their claim.

As revolutions often do, this one moved down to children. Again, Patagonia led the way, designing outdoor clothing out of its new fabrics for babies and children. “No union suits for this one!” I wrote to a climbing friend after her daughter was born in the early 1980s, attaching my note to a soft fleece bunting.

Three decades later, families reap the benefits of ongoing research in outdoor fabrics. The clothing we buy for our children to wear outdoors comes from a wide variety of manufacturers in many styles, sizes, and price points. We are the beneficiaries, as well, of a continuing search for what Patagonia calls “the cleanest line” — the most sustainable approach to the environment, including the gear and clothing that we purchase and use. Companies use recycled plastics in their synthetic fabrics, work with cotton growers to reduce and eliminate pesticides, and track the environmental impact of their products, from the manufacturing process to our front doors.

So I was intrigued when someone from Icebreaker, a company I hadn’t heard of before, contacted me a few months ago. The company, based in New Zealand, has manufactured outdoor clothing in merino wool since 1994. They offered to send me some samples and to talk to me about the development of their children’s clothing line. After speaking with Michelle Mitchell, the general manager of Icebreaker’s kids business unit, I have a sense that the revolution is continuing — but also circling back in interesting, even surprising, ways.

Like U.S. companies Ibex and SmartWool, which also started in the 1990s, Icebreaker is pursuing research in non-synthetic fabrics such as wool. “In New Zealand, everyone grew up wearing traditional itchy wool long underwear,” Mitchell told me — and moved away from it, just as I did, with deep relief. But recent advances in fiber technology mean that the merino wool used by these companies is not the same stuff that raised red welts on my skin. I was able to see the advances with my own eyes. Virgil, who also has sensitive skin, wore the shirt that Icebreaker sent him for several days in a row without complaint and without an itch. And the socks didn't stink after even days of wear. Now that’s progress.

High-performance clothing for children is also high-cost, however, and children can outgrow clothing in one season. Buying large works especially well for base layers, giving children several years of use before they outgrow an item. We’ve also been the grateful recipients of hand-me-down synthetic long underwear, fleece, and outerwear for our children since they were born, and we make a point of hitting local ski and gear swaps. The long underwear that Virgil is wearing this winter was worn by four kids before him, and it’s still good enough to pass along to a smaller child.

I wasn’t surprised to learn from Mitchell that Icebreaker created its children’s line after the people who worked there started having children. At first, employees sewed baby versions of the company’s merino wool tops and bottoms out of sample fabric and gave them as baby presents. Getting a “baby Icebreaker” became something of a company tradition.

Mitchell admits that Icebreaker’s kids’ line is a small part of the company’s overall business. But she believes that the benefits of high-quality outdoor clothing are even greater for children than for adults. “Good gear makes a huge difference if you’re taking kids outside on adventures,” she said. “Kids overheat so easily and get so miserable if they’re too hot or cold. You want them to stay warm even if they’re wet.” If children are comfortable, she believes, they’ll enjoy being outside — “and we’re passionate about getting kids outside.”

Getting children into the outdoors, keeping them safe, taking care of the environment. That's a revolution I can join.

Learn more

...about children's clothing and environmental initiatives at
- Patagonia
- Icebreaker
- Ibex (no separate children's line)
- SmartWool (check out "our values" in the "Discover" section of the website)

Photo: Virgil, dressed in hand-me-down synthetic long underwear, fleece-lined water resistant ski pants, a wool shirt, wool socks, and fleece mittens — and happy even when down.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine and Heather Stephenson. Kristen wrote this post.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fun on skis — on the flats, on the slopes, and even in slush

Last winter, for a post here on teaching cross-country skiing, I interviewed a coach in our area Bill Koch League (BKL), an after-school and weekend Nordic program for more than 400 local kids. The program impressed me, and it seemed like fun. Virgil thought so, too, especially after hearing me describe the skills games the kids played. He didn’t know that “gorilla walking” — striding forward in a slight crouch and swinging arms “like a gorilla” — helped kids learn a classic cross-country ski technique or that playing ski-tag helped them become comfortable moving in many directions on skis. He just thought it was something he’d like to do, too.

We were too late for last year’s program, but throughout the winter I’d often see kids wearing the program’s hats or jackets out on the trails. This year we signed Virgil up early for the one-day program on Tuesdays. I volunteered to be a parent coach, too. We splurged on new skis and poles for Virgil, plus a hat with the program logo. Then we waited for the snow to come.

In late January, we’re still waiting for decent snow. I won’t lie: I’ve dreaded many a Tuesday since late November. What can you with a group of a dozen 8- and 9-year olds when there’s no snow? When it’s raining out? When the snow that we did have, briefly, is now mostly natural slushee?

This past Tuesday, after a warm front carrying heavy rain had blown through, I arrived at the practice with Virgil, our gear, and a healthy dose of skepticism. “There’s hardly any snow,” Virgil moaned. “This won’t be any fun.”

I didn’t think it would be any fun either, but I couldn’t tell him that. Instead, I told him to get dressed. I gave myself the same command, and we joined our little group, where a high school skier would be helping me coach that day.

As soon as I was out there, though, surrounded by the other kids, some of them looking as reluctant as Virgil, I stopped noticing the bare patches of ground and started focusing on what we were going to do. The remaining snow, saturated with water, offered easy gliding. Relatively warm temperatures meant that a sideways tumble into a slush puddle was all wet silliness and no risk of hypothermia. When we sent the kids down a short little hill and their skis sent out sprays of slush, we knew enough to send them down into the slush pool again, and again.

“I’m completely soaked!” Virgil crowed happily back in the car, as he pulled off each item of wet clothing and let it fall to the floor with a liquid thumph. “I’m not sure that was skiing,” he said. “But it sure was fun.”

He and I both learned (or re-learned) a classic lesson on Tuesday: You don’t need much to have fun outdoors, even in the winter, even in a sloppy, messy winter. You just have to open the door and get out.

Here are some more ideas and tips for fun on skis, whether they’re Nordic or downhill, in good snow years or bad.

At home

- Let kids wear their boots (Nordic or downhill) and play “space adventurer” even before you leave for the slopes, says Billie Munro Audia, a Safety Ambassador on the ski patrol at Vermont’s Okemo Mountain Resort who has also taught skiing to children in Colorado and elsewhere in New England. Becoming familiar with the equipment is the first step toward becoming comfortable with the sport.
- Celebrate snow, or pray for more, by doing a “snow dance” in your yard. Encourage kids to put on their skis for the celebration.

In the car
- Keep a bag of spare clothing in the car with hat, mittens, socks, extra mid-layers, and underwear (both the long and regular variety). It can come in handy when you arrive at a ski area and realize that you've left the mittens behind, or at the end of a day of skiing, when everything your child is wearing is soaked. You can also keep snacks and juice boxes or water in the bag, for quick pick-me-ups.

On the snow
- Children love humor, songs, silly word play. Put that fun to use teaching the basics of skiing. When Audia teaches downhill skiing to children, she encourages them to “walk like a penguin” (ski tips turned out, walk forward by bringing one ski tail forward at a time); make “French fries” (skis pointing forward and parallel, about shoulder width apart); and a make a “slice of pizza” (aim ski tips together and widen the distance between the ski tails). The vivid images stick with kids even better than pizza and French fries at lunch.

On the mountain or trail
- Falling happens. It helps kids to know that falling down is part of learning. “Blaming snow snakes for falls works wonders,” says Audia. “You know snow snakes, right? Those hard-to-see white snakes that pop up from the snow, grab your ski pants, and make you fall?” Keep the light touch by making a game out of getting up.
- Play games. Children learn by playing. To help kids practice transferring their weight on downhill turns, Audia plays Follow the Leader. We ended our practice on Tuesday by playing Capture the Flag. Ski poles stuck into the soggy ground served as our flags. Virgil and the others moved tentatively at first, but quickly forgot that they were on skis. I watched Virgil glide past the sentries (he was imagining himself a Viking warrior, he told me later), capture the other team’s pole and make a dash for safety. It was the most confidently he had skied all day. And he was smiling.

Photos courtesy of Ford Sayre Nordic Program and Mt. Snow Ski Resort.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine and Heather Stephenson. Kristen wrote this post.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sledding, Snow Forts, and Massage for Mom

Snow conditions at the Highland Center were perfect last weekend for kids to sled and play in the fort outside the lodge, and perfect for parents and older children to snowshoe Mount Willard and cross-country ski at nearby Bretton Woods. But the icing on the cake for me was a 50-minute massage (on a heated massage table, no less) at the lodge Saturday afternoon.

We brought our daughter’s trusty purple sled from home, but I noticed a toboggan in the entryway of the lodge, ready to be borrowed. I was also grateful for the snow fort right across from the entrance. We stumbled upon it by chance while exploring the mountains of snow left by plows that clear the path, and our 2-year-old loved peeking through the window slots at people walking by. On the final morning of our visit, she also enjoyed a hike around the lake behind the lodge, mostly being carried in the backpack, but hiking some on her own, checking out tracks. (Child carriers, hiking poles, and snowshoes are among the items available for guests to borrow for free from the lodge’s L.L. Bean gear room.)

On this visit, we stayed in the Balsam Fir room, the name of which was a bit of a mouthful for our daughter. I suggested we call it the Christmas tree room. The name was fitting, for it gave us a great gift: the perfect mix of introducing our daughter to the pleasures of the natural world in winter and giving ourselves a treat at the same time.

If you’re dreaming of a getaway, check conditions at AMC’s lodges.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine and Heather Stephenson. Heather wrote this post.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

AMC's Summer Offerings for Families and Teens

My daughter first visited an AMC hut when she was in the womb, prompting slightly nervous questions from the croo about my due date. Now that she can hike in on her own two feet, we’ve revisited that hut—the family-friendly Lonesome Lake—and we’re eager to explore new options.

AMC offers many opportunities to arrange your own outdoor summer traditions, like hiking to the huts. But it also makes the planning easier with programs for families and teens and volunteer-managed family-friendly camps. Here’s a quick summary of what’s available.

Notice that for Teen Wilderness Adventures, a special discount is being offered through the end of January, and for Three Mile Island, applications are due by February 1.

AMC Family Adventure Camps
AMC offers two types of family adventure camps, focused on children of different ages. The five-day outdoor adventure programs, designed for families with children ages 5 to 12, are based at AMC lodges in New Hampshire and Maine, and offer guided daily activities like hiking, paddling, and nature study, with meals, lodging, and evening programs included. This year, AMC’s Cardigan Lodge will host a new two-night series for families with kids ages 2 to 5. It too will include nature exploration, meals, and lodging.

Teen Wilderness Adventures
For older kids (12 to 18), consider these 4- to 20-night backcountry hiking, paddling, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and rock climbing adventures. Choices include trips organized by age, activity, and location. If you book by January 31, you can save 20 percent (in addition to your member discount if you’re an AMC member).

Teen Trail Crews
AMC offers teenagers the chance to learn new skills while working on trails for one to four weeks in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the north woods of Maine. Many crews camp in the backcountry near the trails.

Three Mile Island
This volunteer-managed shorefront camp on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire has a main lodge building and 47 kerosene-lantern-lit cabins. It offers meals, weekly conservation speakers, and a wonderful spot to swim, canoe, kayak, sail, and hike with your family. The season is from June 23 to August 25, and all applications postmarked by February 1 receive equal consideration. Kids must be at least 4 years old.

Echo Lake Camp
This volunteer-managed waterfront camp near Acadia National Park in Maine has a main lodge building and platform tents. It offers day and evening programs, meals, and a great location to swim, canoe, kayak, sail, and hike with your family. The season is from June 30 to September 1, and all applications postmarked between March 1 and April 1 receive equal consideration. Kids must be at least 4 years old.

Cold River Camp
This volunteer-managed camp in the beautiful, undeveloped Evans Notch area of the White Mountain National Forest has a central lodge and single, double, and family cabins (most with fireplaces or wood stoves and kerosene lamps). From here, you and your family can go hiking, canoeing, kayaking, biking, and swimming; meals and programs are included, and a nature trail leads to a tea house perfect for reading and painting (if your kids will slow down for such activities). The season is from June 30 to September 1, and applications are considered by lottery on April 1 and thereafter. There is no minimum age for kids.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine and Heather Stephenson. Heather wrote this post.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's January: Have you planned for summer camp?

Summer may seem a lifetime away, but super-organized parents are reserving camp spots already. If you’re like me and still wondering what you’ll do this weekend, though, don’t worry; there’s time to make a plan. But more options are available if you start soon.

Here are a few resources to help you:

· find summer day camps and overnight camps near you

· evaluate whether a program is a good fit for your child.

In an upcoming post, I will provide a list of AMC’s offerings for families and teens.

Finding A Camp

When I think about summer options, I start by asking friends and looking at the websites of organizations I know. These are still tried and true methods. But if you’re looking for a more comprehensive way to identify possibilities, the nonprofit American Camp Association offers an online tool to search for ACA-accredited day and overnight camps. You can search by program focus, affiliation, child’s age, location, and other criteria.

Evaluating A Camp

Once you’ve identified a day or overnight camp that seems interesting, here are some issues to research as you consider it for your kids. It’s always a good idea to talk directly with someone involved in the program, including a parent of a past participant, and to visit if possible.

Philosophy and Program

· What’s the larger goal of the camp, and how does the daily schedule serve it? Is there chapel, or competitive sports, or other elements you want to include or avoid? What’s the food like? How will you be able to communicate with your camper? How is homesickness handled? What about discipline? Does the length of the camp (one week, two weeks, or more) seem like the right fit for your family?

Accreditation and Training

· Is the camp accredited? If not, why not? What is the counselors’ average age, education level, and training in first aid and other skills related to the camp’s offerings? Does the camp conduct criminal background checks on staff?

Health and Safety

· What is the medical staff on site, and nearby? What are safety procedures (near water, for example)? If the camp transports children, how often are vehicles inspected and what is the drivers’ training?

Ratios and References

· What is the counselor-to-camper ratio? What percentage of counselors and campers returns each year? Can you talk with parents and kids who attended the camp last year?


· Make sure you understand the full fees, and ask about financial aid if you might qualify.

What other questions do you think are helpful to ask?

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine and Heather Stephenson. Heather wrote this post.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Two Great Family Outings West of Boston: deCordova Sculpture Park and Punkatasset Conservation Lands

Looking for a quick idea for an outing around Boston this weekend? Last Sunday, my family took advantage of the current discounted rates at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln and spent a great morning wandering the grounds. And the previous weekend, we saw lots of signs of beaver at the Punkatasset conservation land in Concord.

DeCordova is a 35-acre park with more than 60 modern and contemporary sculptures to view. While signs ask visitors not to climb on the art, a few pieces are interactive: You can make music by dragging a stick across a large set of chimes, for example, and step in and out of a two-room house made of two-way mirrors. My 2-year-old and I also couldn’t resist walking through a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture that she dubbed “big red person.” (The piece is actually called Ozymandius, and a sign provides the Percy Bysshe Shelly poem of the same name for those curious about its story.)

Along a path that winds behind the museum building, visitors have created whimsical cairns, to which we added a few stones and a pine cone. Anyone interested in a longer, wooded hike can access a 3.5-mile loop around nearby Sandy Pond from the parking lot. (It’s described in AMC’s Best Day Hikes near Boston.)

Admission to the sculpture park is free Monday through Friday and half price on the weekends until January 21, because the museum building is closed while a new exhibit is being installed. The store is open, though, so you can duck in to warm up and visit the bathrooms (unisex, with baby changing stations).

Punkatasset is harder to find than the sculpture park, but offers a great set of trails, including a short loop through woods and meadows and around Hutchins Pond that might take half an hour at an adult pace. We hiked it with our daughter in a backpack for part of the time and walking on her own the rest. We saw a few other people, some walking their dogs off leash. The highlight was surely the signs of recent beaver activity, including one tree that didn’t look like it would be standing much longer.

To find this gem, drive on Monument Street from the center of Concord until you are about six tenths of a mile north of the Fenn School. Park on the left side of the road and walk down what looks like a driveway to access the trails. A sign provides a map. The town also has information and a map (PDF) online.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine and Heather Stephenson. Heather wrote this post.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winter Camping with Children

If you’ve packed up your tent until next spring, you might want to reconsider. Winter offers families another season — and another world — to explore through camping. Children may enjoy the wonderfully paradoxical nature of winter camping even more than most adults. It’s cold, but you are warm. There’s the immensity of the world outside the tent and coziness of the world inside it. Even winter’s basic elements, snow and ice, are paradoxes: delicate enough to melt in your hand, strong enough to bear the weight of a tent, frozen substances that insulate you on the most frigid nights. These wonderful and strange properties may be why children need little encouragement to play in the snow.

The challenge for parents is to make sure winter camping is comfortable. However, if you follow a few simple rules for safety and start slowly, you won’t find it hard to create warm family memories out of cold winter nights.

What follows are tips and suggestions for family camping in winter and maybe some encouragement for getting your tent out of storage.

Start close to home. In fact, Yemaya Maurer and Lucas St. Clair, authors of the AMC Guide to Winter Hiking and Camping, recommend starting at home. If you introduced your children to summer camping by setting up a tent in the yard, you’re already familiar with the benefits of the backyard approach. Trying clothing, sleeping bags, and gear within view of home gives you an easy escape if a child gets cold, wet, or scared — not to mention a nearby bathroom. Don’t forget to build snowmen and snow forts, too: Playing in a familiar way in the snow, Maurer and St. Clair remind us, gives children a basic level of comfort about being outdoors in the winter.

Choose close-in favorites. For first winter camping outings with children, Maurer and St. Clair recommend returning to familiar places, preferably those within a mile of a road. Children will be fascinated by the changed feel of a trail they know in other seasons, while you’ll have the extra comfort of knowing where you are. Expect to travel much more slowly on snow than on a dry trail, and remember that daylight starts later and ends earlier in winter than in summer. Check on seasonal road closures and trailhead parking before heading out.

Practice layering. Keeping warm and dry is the key to successful winter camping trips, and the key to staying warm and dry is layering. Children need to be taught to wear several layers of clothing that retains heat but not moisture— no cotton — and then need to practice adding layers before they’re cold and taking layers off before they sweat.

Try on all clothes at home before packing them on an overnight trip. You want to know ahead of time that last year’s long underwear no longer fits, or that the zipper on that jacket doesn’t work.

Once on the trail, stop regularly to monitor young children’s feet and hands for cold (inspect for blisters while you’re at it) and check that inner layers aren’t wet. Pack extras, and make sure children change out of soggy clothes when you reach camp.

Enlist children in setting up camp. One of the secrets of winter camping is how much like child’s play it is. Children can help shovel out snow benches and tables, stomp out tent sites, and fill containers with snow to melt into water. Arrive in camp early in the day so kids aren’t too tired, hungry, or cold to join in.

Have fun keeping warm. Eat high-calorie snacks and meals, says AMC Adventure Programs Manager Sara DeLucia. Kids are likely to enjoy being required to bring candy bars to bed with them in case they wake up cold, or getting to drink such winter-camping standards as hot liquid Jell-O and hot chocolate. DeLucia also recommends warming up sleeping bags with hot-water bottles and bringing along packets of hand and toe warmers.

Keep it safe, and keep it fun.
The standard advice about outdoor activities with children is never more true than for winter activities. If you help children stay warm and dry throughout a winter camping trip, they’re likely to enjoy themselves. And if they’ve had fun in the snow, fun in the tent, and fun coming back out, they’ll probably want to go winter camping again — with you.

Learn more
Purchase the AMC Guide to Winter Hiking and Camping by Yemaya Maurer and Lucas St. Clair.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog written by Kristen Laine.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Introducing a New Voice for Great Kids, Great Outdoors

Kristen Laine has been writing this blog since May 2009, and I’ve been happily editing it. Behind the scenes, we have enjoyed long conversations about raising kids, but readers have heard only her voice. This year, Kristen and I have decided to share the blog, alternating posts from our somewhat different perspectives—Kristen living in a house in the country and raising older kids, me in a city apartment with a toddler.

You’ll still hear a great deal about Kristen and her family, and the pleasures and challenges of their rural life in New Hampshire, but you’ll also hear from me about getting outside as a family around greater Boston. Given my role as publisher at the Appalachian Mountain Club, I’ll also be posting information about what’s going on at AMC, from special opportunities for families to program news.

Of course, as soon as I agreed to share the blog with Kristen, I wondered what I was thinking. As a mother who works full-time, I sometimes feel challenged to get outside with my family at all, let alone write about the experience. But I’m hoping that adding my voice to this forum will help inspire others and give me fresh ideas. So please, let me—and Kristen—know your questions and suggestions as we try this new experiment in 2012.

And if you’re curious about the photos of me, both the one at the top of this post and the one with my bio on the blog were taken at Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Mass., earlier this week by my friend Lynda Banzi Sponholtz, an AMC member. That was before the weather turned cold again!

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine and Heather Stephenson.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Top 10 posts in 2011: AT cats, deathslogs, wicked big puddles, and other outdoors family fun

Another year gone, a new year starting, a time for reflecting… which makes this a good time to look back on “Great Kids, Great Outdoors” posts from 2011 that touched people or were shared most widely.

Sir, the AT Cat.” I first wrote about Sir and his trail friend, Magic Mix, in a description of efforts by “trail angels” to help thru-hikers stranded by Tropical Storm Irene in New Hampshire and Vermont at the end of the summer. Readers wanted to know more about Sir, and the story of the black backpack-sitting cat and his young owner became the year’s most popular post. (2011 was the Year of the Cat around AMC: One of the top posts on Matt Heid’s “Equipped” blog was about the house cat at the Mount Washington Observatory.)

Deathslog.” Maybe it was the title, or maybe the debate that followed it. For whatever reason, the story of four boys, their fathers, and their one-day hike across the Presidential Range became one of the most-read posts of 2011.

Early-Season Family Hikes.” This series of three posts from April was fueled by the eagerness every hiker feels to get back into the mountains after a long winter — and the winter of 2010-2011 was a long one. Experienced AMC guidebook authors helped me select day hikes for families — Robert Buchsbaum for the White Mountains, Michael Tougias and John Burk for hikes near Boston, and Peter Kick for hikes in the Hudson Valley and Catskills — and, judging from how often the posts were read, helped many families get an early start on hiking.

Wicked Big Puddles and Vernal Pools.” Who doesn’t like spotted salamanders and the delightfully crazy folks who set up “salamander crossings” to help these New England amphibians return to vernal pools each spring? The first warm rain of the year brings salamanders, wood frogs, and other forest creatures to these ephemeral pools for a very short time — sometimes only one or two nights — to mate and begin a new cycle of life. A series of Mass Audubon outings gave me the title for a post that combined natural science with information on where families could join the fun.

Some of the most viewed posts of the year weren’t actually from 2011. I’m glad to know that such series as the five-part “Fall Hikes and Rambles with Kids,” from September 2009, and “Teaching Kids Cross-Country Skiing,” from December 2010, are still being found and read.

“Great Kids” also need the “Great Outdoors” in town and at school. “Rethinking Schoolyards — and Classrooms,” also a popular older post, explored the efforts of innovative schools to incorporate the natural world into children’s school days. I profiled the outdoor playground at Crossroads Academy in Lyme, New Hampshire, and the outdoor classrooms created through the Boston Schoolyard Initiative.

Finally, in this blog I sometimes explore our own outdoors family relationships, our ups and downs, high points and spills. “If the snowshoe fits: one reluctant kid, one grumpy mom, and a dad with hot dogs,” from January, was the most popular of those posts in 2011.

The New Year brings some changes to the “Great Kids, Great Outdoors” blog. Beginning this week, AMC Outdoors and AMC Books publisher Heather Stephenson will start sharing her knowledge of AMC and her own experiences as an outdoor parent. Look for her fresh and different perspective to these postings starting Saturday. And as always, we hope you’ll share your own knowledge and experiences with us. It’s going to be a great year!

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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