Perhaps you’re not the outdoorsy type. Maybe sleeping in a tent, coping with mosquitoes or canoeing across a lake is not your idea of a good time.
There still are ample opportunities to give your children outdoor experiences. The way to do it is with baby steps, or what Gerry Bishop, director of children’s publications for the National Wildlife Federation, calls a “green hour.” He is encouraging parents and children to spend 60 minutes whenever possible engaging in outdoor activities.
“We’re not talking about a weeklong hike in the Adirondacks,” Mr. Bishop says. “You can find outdoor activities even in your own back yard. People just need to put a little bit of effort into it. You don’t have to be an expert on the outdoors; your kids will just like being outdoors with you. … The smallest things make a huge impression.”
Richard Louv, author of the book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” says starting small is just what children discovering nature need. He says even an unmanicured part of the back yard, where children can turn over rocks to see what is living underneath, will suffice.
“The sense of wonder is what is most important,” Mr. Louv says.
Some other suggestions from Mr. Bishop and Mr. Louv for outdoor fun in an hour:
Plant a garden. Even city dwellers can grow herbs and flowers in a box or planter.
Catch living things. Look for tadpoles, bring them home to put in a terrarium, then set them free when they grow into frogs.
Get a field guide and look at things you live with, says Traci Price, director of public programs at Discovery Creek Children’s Museum in Glen Echo. Try to identify trees and birds in your own back yard. Get a magnifying glass and a good pair of shoes and walk around the outside of your property.
“All it requires is looking at things differently,” she says.
For families looking to expand their parameters, the Washington area is full of wild places for exploration. Most are available for impromptu visits as well as scheduled family programs. Some popular ones:
Huntley Meadows Park, 3701 Lockheed Blvd., south of Alexandria. Phone: 703/768-2525. This park in Fairfax County runs through a protected wetland. Many of the park’s trails go through the woods, and boardwalks take visitors through marshy areas. This is a good place to see beaver dams, birds, ducks and various plants.
Rock Creek Nature Center, 5200 Glover Road NW, Washington. Phone: 202/426-6829. Rock Creek Park is a wonderful urban wilderness with many trails and park areas. The nature center includes hands-on exhibits and a planetarium.
Locust Grove Nature Center, Cabin John Regional Park, 7777 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda. Phone: 301/299-1990. This park has many opportunities for nature exploration, with lots of family and children’s programs at the nature center.
Great Falls Park, 9200 Old Dominion Drive, Great Falls. Phone: 703/285-2966. The 800-acre national park on the Virginia side of the Potomac River is a great place for a simple family hike and to observe the rushing river waters. The visitors center offers information about local and natural history.
Discovery Creek Children’s Museum, 7300 Glen Echo Blvd., Glen Echo. Phone: 202/337-5111. This museum in Glen Echo Park is devoted primarily to nature. It has indoor exhibits as well as outdoor trails, gardens and areas to observe plants and animals. Discovery Creek also has many family programs and a summer nature camp.