Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Canoeing and Kayaking with Kids: Tips and Trips

It’s the season for messing about in boats, when cool waters beckon and splashing paddles transform restless kids into adventurers. Here are some tips and suggested trips to inspire you to get your family out on the water.

Why not make space in your schedule for a long, lazy day of paddling—or at least a fun afternoon? As Rat of the children’s classic The Wind in the Willows would say, there’s nothing half so much worth doing.

  • Find 10 great family paddling trips in the Northeast, including lakes, ponds, and rivers at vacation destinations like Acadia National Park, Cape Cod, and the Adirondacks.
Photo by iStock.

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


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Backyard and Urban Camping Trips Give Kids A Taste of the Outdoors

The Great American Backyard Campout is this weekend. Where will you pitch your tent?

This national night dedicated to getting families outdoors, held on June 23 this year, includes community events, where families get together in local parks to share picnics and sleep under the stars.

But it isn’t the only way for urban families to try camping close to home: In New York City, two free programs that run throughout the summer can help.

Here’s some information from AMC’s new Kids Outdoors online community about plans for the campout this weekend and opportunities for urban camping in Boston and New York City.

Backyard Campout and Boston Programs
The easiest way to join in the campout this weekend, if you have the gear and the yard, is simply to set up your tent and spend a night with your kids outside, while still close to the comforts of home. It’s a great first step if you are getting started for the season – or if you’re camping for the first time.

But the Great American Backyard Campout, sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, expands beyond private yards to team events and public campouts at local parks. These can offer a great spirit of camaraderie.

In the Boston area, the First Parish Church in Dorchester has organized a team, and there are also two public teams in Weymouth and Leominster. To find a gathering in your area, check out the website.

REI, one of the national sponsors of the event, has put together a 28-page kids' adventure journal that can be downloaded for free. In it, kids can keep track of their outdoor excursions, sketch animals they spot, and play nature-themed puzzles and games.

If you want to get a little farther from home but still stay in the Boston area, try camping on one of the four Boston Harbor Islands that offer rustic sites. Reservations are required.
 
New York City Summer Programs
Two free camping programs that run all summer help New York City families get started.

Urban Park Rangers, who work for the city Department of Parks and Recreation, host free camping excursions Friday and Saturday nights at parks in all five boroughs from May through August. The programs start between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and are open to about 30 participants, who are selected by lottery. The recommended age is 4 and older. Evenings begin with a cookout and a hands-on tutorial on setting up a tent. Tents and food are provided, but campers must bring their own sleeping bags and flashlights or headlamps, because the event features a night hike. Camping spots are located near restrooms, and a team of rangers rotates staying awake through the night to answer questions or offer help if it’s needed.

National Park Rangers run a similar program at Floyd Bennett Field, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, in Brooklyn. The program is held one weekend per month from June through September, and the recommended age is 6 and older. Campers bring their own food but all other equipment, including cooking utensils, is provided. Sleeping bags are available to rent for $8, or you can bring your own. Restrooms and drinking water are next to the campsite. The program starts at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and features independent and ranger-led hikes, meal time, and camping instruction. Sunday mornings begin at 8 a.m. with a pre-breakfast birding and nature hike. After breakfast, rangers drive everyone to nearby Jacob Riis Park for kayaking and seining (catch-and-release fishing using large nets).
 
New York City Camping on Your Own
For New York families ready to camp on their own, but still looking to stay close to home, Floyd Bennett is the only place in the five boroughs with a public campground. It has about 35 tent sites and six RV sites. Reservations and permits are required in advance.

Learn More

Hat tips to bloggers Kim Foley MacKinnon and Cheryl and William de Jong-Lambert, who write weekly for the Kids Outdoors community.

Photo of setting up camp in Prospect Park courtesy of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Wild Strawberries, Frogs, and New Kids' Books at Cardigan Lodge

A spring bounty of croaking frogs and wild strawberries currently surrounds the pond at AMC’s Cardigan Lodge in New Hampshire, delighting kids and adults alike.

When I visited with my family last week, the frogs were so numerous that we could stand in one spot and easily point out six or seven. Most were at water’s edge, although a few leaped from the grass at our feet as we approached.

The strawberries, tiny but delicious, dotted the field on the far side of the pond. My daughter agreed to leave a few for other kids to find, but go soon if you want to see them this season.

Other attractions for families include the waterfall, boardwalks, and bridges on the nature trail that heads into the woods from beside the pond. We saw what I think was a red-spotted newt in its terrestrial eft stage (a bright orange, salamander-like juvenile walking in the woods, rather than a younger tadpole, which we saw many of in the pond), as well as pinecones of wildly varying sizes. Robins, dragonflies, and butterflies were also out in profusion.

Last year we hiked Mount Cardigan with our daughter (then just shy of 2 years old) in a carrier on my husband’s back, but this year we decided to stick to shorter, less steep trails and let her do all her hiking herself. Luckily, there’s plenty to see and do below summit level, and my husband found time for a quick hike on his own to a viewpoint, if not all the way to the top.

Back in the lodge, this year’s great addition for kids is the new children’s Book Nook in the library, which features three dozen titles, from board-book favorites like Goodnight Moon to books for older readers, like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Many of the books, which were donated by Bright Horizons, feature the natural world prominently, complementing the lodge’s surroundings. If you happen to hit a rainy day and your kids have exhausted the junior naturalist activities upstairs, or if you need some quiet time between dinner and bedtime, these and other books and games in the library will provide the perfect entertainment.

Learn More
  • Read the history of Cardigan Lodge.
  • Check out an itinerary of summer activities based at Cardigan Lodge, exploring the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.
  • Learn about this summer’s new Wee Wanderers programs in New Hampshire and Maine for families with kids ages 2 to 5.
Photos by Marc Chalufour, © Appalachian Mountain Club

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









Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Growing, and Eating, Vegetables with Kids

The White House kitchen garden got a lot of attention recently because of the First Lady’s new book, but where I live, my daughter’s container garden is the big news.

A neighbor with a green thumb helped us get started last month. She and my two-and-a-half-year-old, along with her nanny, walked to a nearby garden center to buy cow manure, seeds, and plants. The staff loaned them a wagon to bring the purchases home, and even threw in a hanging flowering plant that wasn’t looking good enough to sell. Later in the day, when more potting soil was needed, another neighbor walked the wagon back and picked up a bagful of dirt.

By the time I returned home from work, my preschooler and her assistants had patted seeds and plants into containers filled with soil and manure, and arranged the containers artfully on a sunny patch of concrete in front of our porch. Grace, the neighbor who serves as lead gardener, happily reported that my daughter had loved digging, mixing, and watering with her pint-size pail, shovel, and bright green watering can (a gift from her nanny, who remembered last year’s garden). Grace also handed me nasturtium seeds and coached me on how to soak them in water that night, getting them ready to plant the next day. The project fit my limited time perfectly, and inspired conversations with my daughter about edible flowers and why the seeds started out floating but (we saw at breakfast the next morning) eventually all sank to the bottom.

This week, the lettuce and sunflowers are sprouting. The basil and tomato plants are looking good too, and we have some chives that came back from last year with no extra encouragement. “Chia?” asked an upstairs neighbor who stopped to chat, like so many who pass by the garden. “Like chia seeds?” “No, chives,” I explained, and he paused, keys in hand, to look at the tall grass-like plants next to the rosemary and cilantro.

Having planted a garden herself, my daughter responds with greater knowledge to books about gardening, like a current favorite by local Somerville, Mass., author Grace Lin, called The Ugly Vegetables. After reading this book about a family’s garden full of Chinese vegetables, we talked about which of the vegetables we might grow so that we too could make the delicious soup the book describes. (The recipe’s included.)

Planting a garden, even a small one in containers that sit on concrete, is a spring ritual I love, and it hits on all the themes that Michelle Obama emphasizes in her book – healthy eating, physical activity, and connections with the natural world being at the top. Gardening also celebrates culture and community, as Grace Lin’s book shows. But I almost counted the activity out when my daughter was younger and I felt particularly frazzled as a working mom.

That’s when this very blog inspired me. In a post last May titled “Make your own summer camp,” Kristen Laine wrote about how she and her husband created a theater camp for local kids by channeling the talent and energy of teenagers in their community. The post got me thinking about people I know who are great with children and have talents to share, like Grace, my neighbor with the green thumb. I asked her if she’d be interested, and a toddler’s garden was born.

If you’re thinking about starting a garden with your kids, I would echo two of Kristen’s recommendations: start small, and ask for help. I would also add one of my own: enjoy eating the benefits.

Learn More
  • Read an excerpt from “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America,” by Michelle Obama.
  • Make Ugly Vegetable soup (you can buy the ingredients in a Chinese grocery store) and try other activities related to the book.
  • Read Kristen Laine’s three-part series on FoodCorps, a national service program to strengthen school gardens, where kids grow some of the food they eat.

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