Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Building A Fire with Kids: Four Tips for Success

One of my favorite chores of childhood was collecting tinder and kindling for campfires. My brother and I used to scour the Adirondack forest floor for just the right mix of twigs, leaves, and sticks to start our blaze. As we got older, we learned more about how to assemble those materials and manage the fire itself, but I always loved the simple but profound task of gathering fuel.

So I was delighted last month when I had a chance to introduce my daughter to this rite of camping. We were on a late summer trip to Tully Lake, staying at a walk-in campground managed by The Trustees of Reservations. Wood was available for purchase and fire pits were already built at each site, so it wasn’t quite the backcountry experience of my own childhood, but then, the growing awareness of Leave No Trace principles has made backcountry campfires more rare.

My daughter, who will soon turn 3, suggested we use her beach pail to carry our kindling back to the fire pit. And quickly, she began to express opinions about what was appropriate to put in the pail: “Too big,” she told me, rejecting a stick I offered. Since I had just moments earlier taught her about choosing small twigs to help the fire start, I had to laugh. I haven’t yet explained how to build the fire itself, but I won’t be surprised if she has opinions on whether it should be in the shape of a tepee or a log cabin.

If you want to introduce your kids to campfires, remember to do so safely. Here are a few tips, adapted from Smokey Bear, mascot of the United States Forest Service. Check out Smokey's website for more details.
  1. Choose an appropriate location. Build fires only when and where they are allowed, and then in designated areas such as fire pits. If no fire pits exist, ask your kids to help you find a spot at least 15 feet from tents and flammable objects, with no low-hanging branches overhead.
  2. Create a safety zone. Explain to children why the area around your pit needs to be cleared, and enlist their help in clearing it; put your extra firewood upwind and away from the pit; and keep a pail of water and a shovel on hand for putting out the fire and any errant sparks that might jump from it.
  3. Build and tend to your fire. Take a cue from my parents and put the kids in charge of gathering your tinder and kindling, and larger wood if they are ready for that. Don’t cut live trees or branches. Build your fire safely and keep it small and under control. Supervise kids and animals near the fire. Never leave it unattended.
  4. Put it out thoroughly. When you’re ready to put the fire out, douse all the ashes and embers with water (or dirt if you don’t have water), and stir until everything is cool. Involve the kids, who may enjoy stirring until the sizzling stops. Do not just bury the embers, as they could smolder and catch tree roots on fire, eventually causing a wildfire.

Photo by Heather Stephenson.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

10 Fun Fall Activities with Kids

It’s apple-picking season! Whether you are returning to a favorite orchard or trying this activity for the first time, here are some ideas to make your family’s visit even more fun, plus nine other suggestions to help your kids connect with nature this fall. These activities are all simple, free or low-cost, and recommended by AMC authors, parents, and naturalists.

1. Go apple picking at a local orchard. Pick three or four varieties and have a taste test. Or try bobbing for apples, baking pies, or making your own applesauce. To find an orchard with pick-your-own hours, search on the nonprofit New England Apple Association website by state, zip code, or even the varieties of apples the orchards grow. The site also includes many recipes to try at home, including microwave applesauce, apple-carrot muffins, and baked apples.

2. Create autumn art.
Collect leaves and iron them between sheets of wax paper to make a bookmark or window decoration.

3. Make a leaf sailboat.
A fallen leaf can be the sail, a stick the mast, and a pinecone or piece of bark the boat body. Head to a nearby pond, stream, or backyard kiddy pool to sail it.

4. Start next year’s garden.
Plant flower bulbs and talk with children about how they will sprout in spring.

5. Watch the birds.
Talk about fall migration and go to a nature preserve to see the birds in flight. Or just point out the honking geese passing by your neighborhood.

6. Have fun raking.
Before clearing the leaves, make a big pile and give kids time to hide, jump, and run through them.

7. Eat what’s in season.
Go to a farmer’s market and choose some local vegetables for a nice soup.

8. Go leaf peeping.
Climb a hill or small mountain to look at the foliage. The view—and a special snack—will make for a great adventure. To learn more about foliage conditions across the Northeast, check out these foliage websites.

9. Throw sticks into a stream or pond.
Watch the ripples, see how far you can throw, and notice what floats and what sinks.

10. Follow your child’s lead. Just head outside and see what interests you. With no agenda, you may discover new games, like lining up pinecones on a log or racing the wind.

More Fun Outdoors
For other simple outdoor activities with kids, see these previous posts:

Photo by iStock.

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

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Air Pollution Sidelines Kids with Asthma

Every year, American kids miss 10.5 million days of school because of asthma, according to the EPA. One in every 10 kids is affected.

They’re not just missing school. They’re missing simple childhood pleasures, like running outside without wheezing and playing on a sports team without toting an inhaler.

One of the major causes is air pollution, measured in fine particulates (which we see as haze) and ozone in the air we breathe.

Individual families can and should create plans to cope with a child’s asthma (see the EPA recommendations here). And schools have come up with creative responses, like raising a flag that is color coded to indicate the air quality each day, to help children modify their activities and manage their asthma.

But we must also attack the problem at the source. We need cleaner air, and not just for kids. Just as concerned parents and teachers are clearing away dust mites, mold, and other asthma triggers in homes and schools, we must clear away pollutants in our air that are harming our health.

Poor air quality is often associated with cities, but it also especially affects hikers who enjoy outdoor recreation on the high peaks of the eastern United States. That’s why AMC’s researchers and policy staff focus so much time on air quality—and why we parents who like to get outdoors with our kids should too.

  • Check out free multimedia resources on asthma from the EPA, including a video on how to control asthma triggers.
  • Join AMC’s Conservation Action Network (CAN) to help advocate for stronger air quality standards and other conservation priorities.

Photo by iStock.

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Keeping a Nature Journal, Sketchbook, or Scrapbook with Kids

Whether you’re embarking on a big trip or simply examining your own backyard, keeping a nature journal can hone your child’s skills of observation, writing, drawing, and self-expression. It can also be a lot of fun.

Cheryl and William de Jong-Lambert, authors of Outdoors with Kids New York City, share their suggestions for how to get a journal going in “Keeping Outdoors Journals with Kids.”

Try out their ideas, and share your own. Does your family press flowers, paint with watercolors, or mark up paper maps? Do you make digital scrapbooks instead of paper ones? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by iStock.

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

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