Tag: nature

SA Outdoor Adventures for Kids

SA Outdoor Adventures for Kids

Hey, hey, hey! Today, as with many August days here in San Antonio, it’s nice and sweltering. Sure, it may get down to 90, but you’d never know it with the humidity. Of course, the heat keeps us indoors in an attempt to avoid it a lot of the time, but it’s still important to get out and go somewhere. I’m a serious believer in the importance of exposure to nature for so many reasons, so we always try to go out and explore outside a couple of times a week.

Here’s my personal list of what makes something a great day (morning or afternoon) destination:

$$$–is it cheap, or even better, free?

Will my small children be happy there?

Safety, weather, and you know, preparedness things

We moved back in February, so I have certainly not scoped out the hottest mom spots in San Antonio by any means, but here’s our favorite spots to kill some time outside with the kid monsters!

1. Guadalupe River State Park

Okay, so not in the city, I know. But hear me out! This beautiful state park is easy to get to, just a drive up Blanco Road to 46. In addition it’s extremely family friendly: they have camping, hiking, a playground (currently closed, boo), a children’s discovery center, a ton of picnic tables, and of course, swimming. There’s deeper water for parents and older kids, but for smaller children there’s also a wonderful section of shallow water. My water-timid 3 year old gets to play and splash around without being worried here. We like to take a big mat and lounge in the shade. Hands down my favorite spot to cool off.

$$$–We have a state parks pass so it’s worth it for us to go. If you don’t, you will have to pay a day use fee.

Happy kids? Very. Always have a hard time leaving.

Preparation–sunscreen (please use a non-toxic kind!), swimsuits, shade, water, snacks, water shoes (don’t underestimate how painful river rocks can be on bare feet), and whatever water safety devices you feel appropriate.

2. Phil Hardberger Park

If you’ve never been to Hardberger Park with your kids it’s definitely worth a trip. This place is huge and even has two entrances, one on Blanco Rd and one on Military. There are dog parks and playgrounds on each side near the parking lots. In addition, the hiking trails just can’t be beat. There’s a large picnic area on each side, benches on some of the trails, and even a large overlook. We go hiking here a couple of times a week and always have a great time. Sometimes we do nature scavenger hunts here while hiking to engage the kids.

$$$–free

Happy kids? Usually. Sometimes a kid gets mad that she has to walk or ride in the stroller instead of being carried.

Preparation–sunscreen (or sun hat and sleeves), water

3. San Antonio Zoo + Brackenridge Park

We purchased zoo memberships as soon as we moved. It was a no brainer for us, we went to the LA Zoo all the time in California, and it wasn’t even particularly close! The girls absolutely love it. And with all the fun enclosures (sorry, animals) and features I can’t blame them. Plus, summer animatronic dinosaurs! You can take a (very short) ride on the carousel, see the pigs and goats at the petting zoo or ride the train. You could spend hours in the splashpad area. There’s all sorts of outdoor things over in the kid’s area, including adorable mini benches. There’s even a small discovery center for the kiddos. If that’s not enough (and let’s be real, you might be beat, but the munchkins have some magical reserve of energy just for moments like this) Brackenridge park is right outside!

$$$–just buy a membership. If you go twice it’s worth it.

Happiness factor? Kids always enjoy it. Even Matt and I are usually glad we went. Exhausted, but glad.

Preparation–sun protection, water

4. Eisenhower Park

I really enjoy this place. There are more difficult hiking trails if that’s what you’re looking for, easy paved trails if you need something simpler. There are nice, wooded trails, too. I like taking the double stroller here. There’s a nice little playground and a large climbing wall for older kids.

$$$–free

Fun level–decent. My kids are always happy if they get to play on a playground.

Preparation–sun protection, water

5. Orsinger Park

Now you should have a very good idea of where I live! This is our basic time-killing place. It’s got a large pavillion for events, bathrooms, a sandbox, and a very large, nice playground. Karissa is obsessed with the sandbox, but Madilyn always has to be coaxed into playing in the sand. There’s lots of lovely cedar elms and picnic tables scattered throughout the grove behind the play equipment. We always go for a little walk through the trails, too.

$$$–free (ca-ching!)

Happy? Oh, so very happy.

Preparation–a diligent parent might bring hydration? I usually don’t…eek. It’s okay, though, because water fountains.

Big Kid Bonus: Tom Slick Park

I’ve only been here once, but the playground was awesome. It was definitely better for older kids, but the play equipment was shaded and I was impressed. There’s a lake with a nice, easy trail to walk, exercise equipment, and what I’m pretty sure was a baseball diamond. This one is on the west side but was a really fun adventure.

$$$–free

Happiness–thumbs up

Preparation–sun protection, water

 

Educational Nature Scavenger Hunt

Educational Nature Scavenger Hunt

Learning about nature and understanding the outdoors is an important and often underestimated component of a well rounded education. My children love to be outside, but on the rare occasion that they need a little bit of motivation to get moving, this is what we use!

A nature scavenger hunt is an ideal way to get kids outdoors, moving, and engaged in the world around them. It encourages development of motor skills, spatial awareness, and identification skills. I am always astonished at their ability to identify and remember information about plants and animals that we do this with.

My girls are 1 1/2 and 2 1/2, so short and simple works best for us right now. If your children are older a longer list will work better.

You will need:

Paper (I use standard 8 1/2 x 11)
Colored pencils, clip art, or printed pictures

Google for some quick facts

Pen or dry erase marker

(Optional) Laminator or water protective sheet cover and tape

Making the List:

Choose the objects, plants, or animals to be found. I enjoy doing plant hunts, so a plant themed list for us might look like this:

Acorn

Catbriar

Elm leaf

Oak leaf

Dewberry leaf

Wood sorrel

A mixed list might look something like this:

Squirrel

Cactus pad

Sunflower

Flint

Cardinal

Butterfly

Have fun and be creative. The more fun you have the more they will enjoy it, too.
Hand draw, insert clip art, or print pictures and place them on a sheet of paper as a visual guideline. I like to hand draw, even though I’m not the best at it, because it helps demonstrate that what you’re looking for will not always look the same and encourage critical thinking. Print the name of the object next to the image.

On the back it’s great to include some information about the things that you’re looking for. Hit up google or Wikipedia for two or three interesting tidbits. I find that engaging in conversation about the hunt really excites my 2 1/2 year old and stimulates her curiosity much more than just telling her what to look for. So, for example, I might put:

Acorn: Nuts of oak trees. Can be processed to make flour.

Catbriar: climbing vine with tendrils and thorns. Soft tips can be eaten.

Elm: Grow very tall. mistletoe likes to grow on elm trees.

Oak: Oak trees grow acorns. Wood is used for building.

Dewberry: small, thorny shrub. Relative of blackberries. White flowers turn into edible berries.

Wood sorrel: commonly mistaken for clover. Has heart shaped leaves. Leaves and flowers taste like lemon.

Laminate:

Laminate the scavenger hunt page if you have access to a laminator so that you can check the list off with a dry erase marker as you go. You can forego laminating if you want to use a plastic sheet protector and tape the top. I like to reuse these, and they can be customized appropriately for your location. In California, for example, we found pine cones and sweet gum seed pods, but in central Texas those things are notably absent, so they’ve been replaced with local flora.

I skipped this step because I do not have a laminator and can’t find my sheet protectors.

The Hunt:

Take your (hopefully) eager participant out into the great outdoors and turn them loose.

If you are on private property it’s really fun to collect the items that are collectible as you go. Afterwards we set the page down, lay the objects on top over the pictures, and talk about everything we found. This is a great way to engage in active learning with the kids–lots of times I’m learning along with them!

If you’re in a state park or other similar location, however, you may have to simply check your list off as you go and take pictures if you can. My daughters really love talking about everything we saw on our walks, so I highly encourage you to review afterwards.

Safety Tips:

I do think that a list of things to be cautious of is very important to cover at some point. Snakes, scorpions, ticks, wasps, and centipedes are obvious dangers, but some inconspicuous aggressors may lurk in the underbrush. Plants that might be listed include poison ivy, oak, or sumac, cactuses, agave, giant hogweed, and hemlock. Things like lilies, oleander, datura, and azaleas are commonly used in landscaping and are lovely, but toxic. Children as well as adults should be aware of this.

Use caution with any kind of foraging/edible information with kids. I’ve had problems with my older girl wanting to eat stuff outside when I’m not looking, so I’ve been withholding that kind of stuff for now or only under supervised situations.

It’s always a good idea to have a safe word for when you’re out and about. We use “hot” as an all-encompassing signal for danger. (This was a tip from Merriwether at http://www.foragingtexas.com/)

Happy Hunting!

Originally written as an Instructable: https://www.instructables.com/id/Educational-Nature-Scavenger-Hunt/

Succulent Spring

Succulent Spring

It’s my first spring in Texas in years, and I am brimming with excitement just witnessing the bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes bursting with color.

I’m a firm believer in natural living–food, medicine, housekeeping, cosmetics, and whatnot. I also tend to follow an evolutionary-style diet consisting of meat, nuts and seeds, plants, eggs, and some dairy. I shouldn’t eat dairy, really: we know that it hinders weight loss, interferes with hormones, exacerbating hypothyroidism, and most adults can’t digest it properly. These are just the reasons why I personally sshouldn’t be eating it, but my tastebuds oftentimes win that battle.

I digress. One thing I really feel is important is being involved in growing or procuring your own food. When we can hunt and keep chickens we plan to (right now it’s just not possible). We have a few hanging baskets and boxes right now for our temporary setup.

But here’s some food for thought: what is more natural than the food already growing outside your door? The weeds that many people seek to eradicate can often be a wonderful and free food or medicine. Truth be told, this is the real reason that spring makes me feel so invigorated. What else can make you feel so primal as foraging the woods for food (perhaps hunting and fishing)? I’m going to share a few easy, basic foods that can be found right now. Quick disclaimer: never eat something that you cannot 100% identify, people make themselves incredibly sick or die doing this.

Dandelion

Dandelion in our front yard

Dandelion means “lion’s tooth” from the deeply toothed leaf structure it bears. They thrive in disturbed soil and cracks and crevices. The hairless, smooth leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, but are best before flowering occurs. Flower petals can be sprinkled in salads for color and flavor or be fried, steamed, or boiled. Some even use flowers to make a wild wine. The root can be used as any cooked root vegetable, and is sometimes roasted and ground up for use as a coffee subsitiute. There are no toxic look alikes.

Yucca Flower

Yucca without flowers

I love yucca flowers, they’re definitely one of my favorite wild foods. My favorite edible part is the flower petals, which are best picked when they first open. I love to throw them in anything that I’m stir-frying. The flavor can vary depending on the variety of yucca–I’ve eaten spicy, horseradish-like petals and mild, cauliflower-like petals. The unopened flower bud and the fruit of some varieties are supposed to be edible as well, but I have never tried this.

Wood Sorrel

Growing between rocks

Oh, wonderful, lemony oxalis. My 2 and a half year old calls this plant “lemon taste,” and it’s a fight to keep her away from it. The entire plant is edible and tastes like lemon. It is commonly mistakenly called clover. Wood sorrel has beautiful flowers that add great color to salads. One day I plan on using these as a topping for something like lemon cake, I think that would be delightful. Contain oxalic acid, so do not eat more than a few leaves at a time. The tubers can be used like carrots. Note the heart shaped leaves, which help identify this plant.

Dewberry

Dewberry leaves and flowers

It isn’t quite the season for these yet, but the vines and flowers are sprawling. Now is the right time to make a mental note of everywhere you see the beautiful white flowers so that you can go back for berries later! I grew up picking these off of vines in our field, taking them home to wash, and devouring all that I could.

They are like scrubby, lanky blackberries. They are ripe when they turn black, but can usually be found easily among red, unripe berries. Be careful for the thorns! They also sometimes tend to grow where poison oak or poison ivy like to grow as well. I do believe that you can probably make tea out of the leaves, but I have never tried.

Agarita

Agarita leaves

Another addition that isn’t quite ready for harvesting yet but I just had to include is the thorny-foliaged agarita bush. This unique plant protects it’s bounty with spiked leaves in bunches of three–anyone who has encountered one knows exactly what I’m talking about. The yellow blossoms exude an intoxicating sweet scent in the spring before turning into little green berries that ripen red. The ripe berries are edible, though I remember them being a bit tart (I haven’t had one in nearly 20 years, but I’m going all out this year). They supposedly make great wild jam. The wood and root of agarita contain a compound called berberine which is medicinal.

Knowing your environment and understanding everything that surrounds you is such a lost art. I want my children to understand where their food comes from–it doesn’t magically appear in a grocery store. Someone grows it, someone raises the chickens that lay those eggs, someone else slaughters the animal that we eat. Having a hand in growing and procuring your own sustenance is something that every human should be involved in. Anyway, I’m not going to preach any more, I just think that free, wild, nutritious food is something to be considered. If it does happen to interest you there are some great resources out there (I’ve included some below).


Mark Vorderbruggen, aka Merriweather, is one of the nicest guys I’ve talked to and really knows his stuff. Texas area: http://www.foragingtexas.com/?m=1

Green Deane is based in Florida but is knowledgable all around, and very famous because of it. Extremely thorough with his plant profiles: http://www.eattheweeds.com

Samuel Thayer, genius in the field: https://www.foragersharvest.com

Steve Brill was arrested for eating a dandelion in Central Park! I really love how well his website is laid out: https://www.wildmanstevebrill.com

Christopher Nyerges was featured on the first season of Doomsday Preppers (don’t hold it against him), which is how I heard of him. We took an acorn processing class with him when Karissa was young and he is great. Southern California area: http://www.christophernyerges.com/index.htm