6 Outdoor Family Activities For Non-Outdoorsy Parents

Being outside has many health benefits. But not everyone wants to be swarmed by bugs in the woods. These less outdoorsy alternatives may be more your style.

Common sense tells us that kids should spend time outdoors. I’m sure most of us have vivid memories of our parents telling us to “Go out and play!” when we were children.

Studies have proven the many benefits that being outside can have on our physical and emotional well-being. According to the National Wildlife Federation, spending time outdoors can increase fitness levels, lower stress and improve sleep. It’s important that we continue to encourage our children to step away from the iPad from time to time and enjoy what nature has to offer, just as our parents did for us.

That being said, not everyone is the nature type – myself included. While I love being outside and enjoying the sunshine, I do not enjoy getting dirty, being bitten by bugs, or “roughing it” in any way.

However, this does not mean people like me can’t plan (and enjoy) family activities that take place in the great outdoors. There are many fun things to do outside that do not involve hiking Mt. Everest, bathing in a river, or sleeping in a tent.

Here are some ideas to try with your family this summer:

1 | Attend sporting events.

Summer is a great time to take in a ball game. Whether it be a major league game, a local college match up, or even a little league tournament, attending a sporting event is a great way to log some outdoor hours and support your favorite teams, as well.

2 | Spend time at the playground.

Kids love few things more than a good playground. Swings, slides, and monkey bars – what’s not to love? Do a little research to find out where all the great playgrounds are in your area. One of the best ways to do this is just by chatting with other local parents to hear their favorites. Playgrounds are always being built, and are now more often accessible for children of all abilities. NPR recently put together an extensive list of these all-accessible playgrounds that you can view online.

3 | Take a walk around the block.

Walking is excellent exercise and when done outside it is even more beneficial. This does not have to be a rugged hike in the wilderness. In fact, a simple walk around your own neighborhood is all you need. Make a time for the whole family to do this together, including your furry friends. An after-dinner stroll together can become a healthy tradition and regular bonding experience.

4 | Browse farmers markets.

Farmers markets are popping up everywhere. Not only can you buy local fruits and vegetables at these venues, but often you’ll find fun (and free!) activities, as well. These can range from live music and cooking demonstrations to all kinds of children’s activities. Join your local market’s email list and “like” them on social media to get updates of what is going on.

5 | Find local fairs or festivals.

Nothing makes it feel more like summer than attending a good old-fashioned county fair or local festival. From the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland, Maine to the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show (New Jersey’s State Fair) in Augusta, New Jersey, there are events everywhere to fit all interests.

6 | Explore local parks.

Of course, let’s not forget about our local parks. Many parks have a little bit of everything – paved walking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, and even forest hiking trails, if you’re so inclined. You can find listings of parks in your area with a quick internet search. The National Park Service has a directory of national parks listed by state.

Hopefully something on this list will spark your interest for some outdoor summertime enjoyment. There are plenty of ways to get your daily dose of Vitamin D without channeling your inner Bear Grylls. Enjoy, and don’t forget your sunscreen!

6 Health Benefits of Nature for Very Young Babies

Six science-backed reasons why a little time in nature goes a long way for babies’ development.

When the clock strikes 4 most afternoons, it’s as if an alarm reminds my six-month-old to get fussy. Thankfully, one activity calms him without fail: Putting him in a carrier and taking a walk around the neighborhood.

As we step outside, he goes from agitated to enchanted with the vivid colors, perfume of blooming flowers, and cool breeze. It’s clear to me there is something about that fresh air that is so soothing — even to an infant.

I suppose I have some other motives, too. By introducing him to nature at such an early age, I hope to establish a lifelong love of exploration and activity. Plus, I still get to enjoy my favorite trails with the added benefit of witnessing his wonderment with the world.

It’s also pretty incredible to think about the health benefits he is experiencing from our daily dose of outside time. Beyond the advantages of continued outdoor play through childhood, here are six more science-backed reasons why a little time in nature goes a long way for babies’ development.

1 | Jumpstarts language skills

From the wind to the sunshine to smells good and bad, babies simply have more sensory information to take in and process outside than when they are in a controlled, indoor environment. That, in turn, promotes early language development, according to a 2014 study published in the European Journal of Social Sciences Education and Research.

2 | Improves physical development

Studies have shown that children acquire most of their basic motor skills before the age of five — with much of the progress occurring within the first couple months of life. The same 2014 study found time outdoors helps facilitate the development of many of those skills even for babies, who benefit from observing others running around and playing.

3 | Lays a foundation for learning

According to The Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale, outdoor play prepares young ones to be future brainiacs — or at least more adept at learning science and reading skills. Technically speaking, that’s because varied environments promote the formation of brain synapses. Or, as researchers put it in a study of infant interaction with nature, “We believe that children are born natural scientists who are curious and ready to learn. Even in infancy, children compare and contrast objects as they explore their world.”

4 | Helps create healthy sleep patterns

Regular bouts of time in the natural sunlight aid the establishment of good sleep patterns for little ones. According to a 2004 study in the Journal of Sleep Research, babies younger than 13 weeks who slept well at night spent twice as much time in the sunlight than their wakeful peers. The lead researcher hypothesized that’s because the outdoorsy infants established their circadian rhythms sooner. But all that mom and dad need to know is that they will get more shut-eye, too!

5 | Wards off illnesses

Research dating back to the early 20th century shows young children who spend more time outdoors are actually less likely to come down with illnesses — possibly because early exposure to the non-sterile outdoors boosts babies’ immune systems. Thom McDade, PhD, associate professor and director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University, told WebMD, “Microbial exposures early in life may be important…to keep inflammation in check in adulthood.”

6 | It’s good for mom and dad, too

For those dealing with postpartum blues, one of the official recommendations from the March of Dimes is to get outside. Another study published in Extreme Physiology & Medicine recommended taking exercise outdoors, which has been found to “improve self-esteem and negative mood subscales, such as tension, anger and depression.”

Using it as bonding time with baby just makes it a win-win situation.

If health and safety concerns still give pause, rest assured that pediatricians agree most newborns can benefit from time outside. The key is to take a few precautions for young outdoor adventurers, including staying out of direct sunlight, dressing in appropriate layers, and avoiding places where people are known to be ill.

Kids Need Active Free Play for Healthy Bodies

A conversation with pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom about the many benefits of “active free play” for kids – especially in in nature.

Angela Hanscom was practicing occupational therapy with children when she had an “a-ha” moment.

Almost all of the activities she was prescribing to treat children with sensory, attention, or balance issues were things that children could and should be experiencing on their own. Climbing, hanging, spinning in circles – these used to be the hallmarks of a child’s experience.

“The occupation of a child is play,” she said. Why were they not doing these things on a daily basis?

This discovery led Hanscom to take a close look at the lives of the children around her – at home, at school, on the playground, and on the ball field. She visited schools, sat in on classes, and watched kids in their everyday habitat. 

Kids were squirming, having trouble paying attention, or wanting to climb where they weren’t supposed to climb. And what were adults doing? They were telling these children to sit still, pay attention, get in line, and stop moving. 

Well-meaning educators, coaches, and parents were basically telling kids not to do their job.

As an occupational therapist, Hanscom’s expertise is in looking at an experience that a child is having and breaking it down to see how it is benefitting (or not benefiting) that child developmentally. Children, she says, will naturally seek out the movement they need, like spinning (which actually aids in developing balance) or jumping up and down.

 Her opinion, which is supported by strong research in her book “Balanced and Barefoot,” is that lack of active free play is actually harming our children.

“How many kids,” she wondered, “would need occupational therapy if they spent more time moving their bodies the way they need to?”

Active free play, as defined by Hanscom, is free play that is not restricted by the rules or objects created by adults. It is child-directed, ideally in nature where kids can come up with their own ideas about how to interact with each other and with the world around them. Thirty years ago, according to Hanscom’s research, the average child had about 4-5 hours of this kind of play during the day; now that number is down to somewhere between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours.  

She believes this drastic change is connected to increased issues with things like regulating emotions, reading, and sensory integration. 

Parents and educators are beginning to take note of Hanscom’s ideas. She has been featured multiple times in The Washington Post and was named a “Hometown Hero” in Glamour Magazine’s 2015 Women of the Year issue.

“When educators and parents hear that they might actually be harming their children by making them sit still or telling them to stop spinning, that’s when they begin to really listen,” says Hanscom.

Hanscom wanted to make sure that once people started thinking about these ideas, they had an opportunity to learn how to put them in action. That idea is at the heart of her book. She named the book “Balanced and Barefoot” because she wanted to convey the strong visual image of a child running around barefoot outside as the quintessential picture of active free play. 

“There is nothing like seeing a child out there playing to help parents understand the value of the experience,” she says.   

With friends, children are more apt to try new things, and to seek reassurance from adults a little less often.

Transitioning to this kind of child-led approach takes patience and practice, Hanscom explains.   Children need a lot of time outdoors to begin to explore their surroundings in new and creative ways, and adults need to be patient with children as they learn to play in a less structured environment than what they are used to.  

Friends are also key. “Every chance I got, I invited kids to come over for the whole day,” says Hanscom about helping her own daughter to develop these skills. With friends, children are more apt to try new things, and to seek reassurance from adults a little less often.

Hanscom also took action on her ideas when she created TimberNook, a developmental nature program in the U.S. and New Zealand that offers the opportunity for virtually unlimited, child-led sensory experiences in nature. TimberNook uses a unique approach from other, more traditional nature programs by focusing on using the environment to foster healthy child development – both intellectual and physical – with minimal adult intervention.

“Is summer camp enough?” I asked Hanscom as I listened to her passionate arguments. 

“We are a living example,” she answered, “of what can happen when children are given the opportunity to develop their free play skills. When I show a parent a video of what their child did while they were at camp, or a child goes home and tells their parent how much fun they had and helps the parent to recreate a TimberNook play space at home, that’s how we’re making the difference.” 

Hanscom says that teachers and parents often tell her that they “couldn’t put a finger on” why kids were having some of the challenges they were, but that learning about the value of free play lights a spark that makes people passionate about trying new things. 

She describes “Barefoot and Balanced” as a message packaged into book form. She hopes that parents will share it with teachers and that the movement will spread into multiple settings.  “There are a lot of barriers out there to making these kinds of changes,” she says, “but we should do everything in our power to keep educating.”

Getting Kids to Play Outdoors Is One of the Best Things You Can Do for Them

Kids today suffer from nature-deficit disorder. They spend less time outdoors, even though contact with nature promotes health, fitness, and imagination.

Do you remember playing outside as a kid? It was a time to run around and let loose, use your imagination, and explore.

As a child growing up in the eighties, I remember walking to school, riding my bike to the swim club or just around the neighborhood to see friends, and making up all kinds of imaginative games in the woods behind my house. Well, that doesn’t happen much anymore.

Today, children suffer from nature-deficit disorder.

This term was coined by Richard Louv, author of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network (C&NN). It refers to children having less experience with and connection to nature over the last couple of decades. Here are some facts:

  • Only 6 percent of American children ages 9-13 play outside unsupervised, according to Frances Moore Lappe in her book EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want.
  • In a 2004 survey of 800 American mothers, 71 percent said they played outdoors every day as children but only 26 percent of them said their kids played outdoors daily.
  • The Outdoor Foundation surveyed 40,000 people and found an overall decrease in the amount of time children participated in outdoor activities.
  • A 2005 study indicated that 71 percent of adults reported that they walked or biked to school when they were children but only about 20 percent of children did in 2005. This is very true for my family. We live five minutes from my children’s schools, yet I spend about 2 hours each week in carpool lines.

Kids and Nature

Why This Is A Problem

Children spending less time outdoors has been linked to decreased appreciation of our environment, health problems including childhood obesity and vitamin D deficiency, diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of emotional illnesses like anxiety and depression.

I want to focus on this last point and how nature helps reduce stress and anxiety.  If children are no longer outside playing and enjoying themselves, then how will they naturally calm down and relax?

Well, the statistics are frightening. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), it is estimated that 1 in 8 children suffers from an anxiety disorder. More worrisome, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25 percent of teens ages 13-18 will experience some form of anxiety.

Additionally, the use of anti-anxiety medications is exploding. It increased by almost 50 percent for children ages 10-19 between 2001-2010, explained Scott Shannon, author of Mental Health for the Whole Child: Moving Young Clients from Disease & Disorder to Balance & Wellness.

Nature and Kids

How Nature Helps Reduce Stress

Contact with nature promotes healing.

A growing number of studies from around the world show that spending time in nature can improve mental health. Examples include recreation activities in the wilderness, community gardens, views of nature and/or gardens at hospitals, and contact with animals. Why is this the case?

  • Humans have a nature instinct known as biophilia—an innate bond we share with all creatures and plants in the natural world that we subconsciously seek.
  • Nature provides a sense of wellbeing.
  • The natural world offers solace and comfort unlike what we find in any manmade environment.
  • Spending time in nature reduces the level of human response to stress and allows us to recover from stressful situations more quickly.
  • Having contact with nature promotes healing. A breakthrough study in 2001 in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that a healing garden at a children’s hospital in California had positive effects on users—about 85 percent reported feeling more relaxed, refreshed, or better able to cope after spending only 5 minutes in the garden.


How Did We Get Here?

Richard Louv quotes a fourth-grader: “I Like to play indoors better because that’s where all the electric outlets are.”

Five key changes over the last 30+ years have impacted our relationship with nature:

  1. How Society Developed. We are increasingly living in urban areas. According to the United Nations, almost 50 percent of all people in the world now live in urban areas, and this is projected to increase to 65 percent by the year 2030. Also, poorly designed outdoor spaces make it more difficult for children to play outside.
  2. Fear. Richard Louv wrote: “Fear is the emotion that separates a developing child from the full, essential benefits of nature.” Since the 1980s, we live in a more fearful society hyped up by 24/7 media reporting, which was intensified after 9/11. Parents worry about many safety concerns that impact the time their children spend outside, such as traffic, crime, strangers, injury, and nature itself (e.g. skin cancer due to sun exposure, bug bites, and harmful animals.) A 1991 study of 3 generations of 9-year-olds showed that between 1970-1990, the radius around home where children were allowed to roam on their own shrunk to 1/9 of what it was in 1970. Imagine what that statistic is today!
  3. Technology. Children spend more and more time focused on screens instead of nature scenes. According to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study, daily media use among children and teens has risen dramatically. Today, 8- to 18-year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week!). Common Sense Media reports a huge increase in the use of mobile media by young children in the past couple of years. To learn more, check out this fantastic infographic summarizing the findings of their 2015 survey. Finally, in his book, Richard Louv sadly quotes a fourth-grader: “I Like to play indoors better because that’s where all the electric outlets are.”
  4. Time pressures. Children are living an overly structured lifestyle involving sports teams, indoor play centers, homework, extracurricular activities, etc., that prevent them from simply enjoying free play outdoors.
  5. Education trends. Unfortunately, outdoor education is not a priority, and recess time and physical education classes are being threatened in many schools.


How Can You Help?

Spend more time outside as a family. Don’t overthink this.

We are all struggling to balance a million priorities and to make the best decisions for our family. Now that you know how critical it is to our children’s wellbeing for them to spend time outside in nature, you may want to take some steps:

  • Spend more time outside as a family. Don’t overthink this. Keep your children’s outdoor time unstructured–go for a walk, visit a local park, ride bikes, have a healthy meal in your backyard, garden.
  • Plan day trips and vacations based on National Parks or other outdoor experiences.
  • Register your children for outdoor sports and summer camp.
  • Teach children to “stop and smell the roses”. In other words, be mindful of nature around you.
  • Lobby for your school to keep physical education and recess on your child’s schedule.
  • Start a nature group at your child’s school.
  • Get involved in a community garden or local environmental group.
  • Examine ways to minimize technology use in your house. Common Sense Media is a fabulous resource to explore.

There is hope.  Recently, my son and I met a friend of his for a playdate at the local library. At first the kids played video games on the computers, but once the rain stopped the boy’s mother suggested we go outside to feed the ducks with some bread that she brought. I thought, “What a wonderful idea!”

We ended up discovering some trails around the lake and really enjoyed ourselves. My son had a blast exploring in nature. Through this experience, I learned that it is very easy to be creative and add some nature experiences back into our children’s lives. Get them out from behind the screen, and go explore outdoors! (Just remember to bring your sunscreen and bug spray.)

10 Tips for Toddler Camping Like a Boss

We usually take our three-year-old camping for a weekend about half a dozen times every summer, so these tips are rooted in our personal experiences.

Our family has always been big on camping.

We have a Westfalia Camper Van which we use to tour New England in search of the ideal spots. We usually take our three-year-old for a weekend about half a dozen times every summer, so these tips are rooted in our personal experiences. Your mileage may vary.

via Fix

1 | Team up with other parents of toddlers

Are you interested in relaxing with your feet up by a campfire; an adult beverage in your hand? If so, then having to constantly entertain your bundle of joy will certainly cramp your style. One of the best ways to avoid tackling this job yourself is to go camping with another family and let the kids entertain themselves. Choose your camping partners wisely, though. It’s obviously got to be a couple you enjoy hanging out with, but it’s almost more important to consider how well your kids get along. Happy kids who aren’t fighting make for happy parents.

2 | Make S’mores sooner rather than later

S’mores are a staple for almost every family campout. Determining when to make them should be a no-brainer. It’s tempting to wait until later in the night when the mood is just right around the campfire, but you’ll be loading up your rugrat with a ton of sugar right before you want them to fall asleep in a new place. Your extended adult relaxation time by the fire just went up in smoke.  (Read: Stop Ruining S’mores, America)

3 | Leave the favorite toys at home

Your child might be begging to bring their favorite, very complicated, battery-operated toy with them on your camping trip. Bad idea. Any toy you bring camping will pretty much be completely trashed.  Transformers will end up so gritty that you’ll think they have robot arthritis. Your daughter’s favorite doll will be looking like Crackhead Barbie in no time. Bring cheap plastic toys with you and encourage your little ones to use their imaginations and play with sticks and rocks (as long as they’re not throwing them at each other).

4 | Do your dinner prep before you leave

Messing around with food prep while you’re camping is a real pain in the neck. Cooking time keeps you at the campsite when you could be out exploring the area with your brood. Ideally, prep at home as much as possible and bring everything ready to toss on the grill or in a pan. We love to make steak tips and marinate them in plastic bags. We’ll also cut up vegetables and have ’em ready to toss in a cast iron skillet. Keep it simple with burgers and dogs for the kids and you’ll be in great shape.  

5 | Bring your child’s usual blankets from home

There are some things you don’t want to mess around with when you’re looking forward to kicking your feet up by the fire. One of them is bedtime. Try not to introduce too many new variables into your child’s bedtime routine. There’s already a ton of stimulus when going to bed in a tent. Bringing some blankets and pillows from their bed at home will bring the familiar scent of their own bed into the mix even if they’re sleeping in a sleeping bag. 

6 | Prepare your child prior to your trip

Have some conversations about what to expect when you’re out on your adventure. Show them photos of the campsite – and amenities if you can – and ask them what they’d like to do while they are there. It might seem like overkill, but it can also be a great idea to spend a night in your tent with a sleeping bag so they’re used to the sights and smells that go along with it.

7 | Bring the bikes and a wagon if you can

If you can bring your bikes, it’s a great way to zip around the campground as a family. There is often little traffic and drivers are usually very aware that there are little ones around. Having a wagon is also a big win. Sometimes there is quite a walk to get to where you’re going (namely the bathroom) and a wagon will make the back-and-forth trips a little easier. Wagons also come in super handy for getting firewood and water, which always tend to be a little farther away than you’d like.

8 | Consider a campground with rad amenities

Toddlers, although incredibly imaginative, can also tend to lean on their parents for entertainment when their little minds draw a blank.  Choosing a campground with killer amenities like a big play structure and a great kid’s pool area can make your experience even better.  

9 | Include the kids with helpful chores

If you’re a parent of a toddler, you know that “I can do it by myself!” is a big part of their ever-expanding vocabulary. This tip comes from our Editor-in-Chief who wrote a piece about his love of car camping. Getting the little ones involved with chores like gathering kindling wood and filling up water jugs is a great way to play to their growing desire for independence. Tasks like these also make them feel like they’re really part of the team. 

10 | Be prepared for cuts, scrapes, and bruises

Kids will definitely get banged up while camping. They’re traipsing through the woods brushing past poison ivy, picking up ticks, and getting scratches. Bring a first aid kit that includes a children’s pain reliever, band aids, antiseptic ointment, tweezers, and calamine lotion. Also, be sure to do a thorough check for ticks each night before your kids change into their pajamas. 

The Real Reason You Should Garden With Your Kids

As a fledgling gardener and mother of three, I’m here to tell you the real reason you should garden with your kid.

It’s spring, which means you can’t open a parenting magazine without being accosted by the image of a toddler wielding a dirty trowel, happily scarfing the bounty of his labor. The magazines will tell you that you should garden with your kids to increase their vegetable consumption, life skills, science achievement scores, playgroup street cred, blackjack odds, and a host of other lies.

As a fledgling gardener and mother of three, I’m here to tell you the real reason you should garden with your kids.

You should do it because gives him something to do during the summer besides kicking his sister or whining for his third bleeping snack of the morning.

You should do it because it fills three units of time in a 30-unit day with a healthy, outdoor activity, thereby allowing you to justify plugging him into the screen drug of his choice for five units. Is your kid going to eat a carrot somewhere in this equation? Possibly. If so, that’s gravy.

But make no mistake – it’s not about the carrots. It’s about the units.

Gardening is a lazy mom’s game.

You can garden with your kids without leaving the house or changing out of your pajamas. Best of all, it will save you at least one trip to the grocery store for berries or broccoli or whatever method you use to avoid scurvy.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned from gardening with my own brood:

[su_highlight background=”#FFE0AB”]1 | Choose your crops wisely.[/su_highlight] The easiest crops to raise are ones you’d find in a salad, such as lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, and carrots. Also, the easiest children to raise are the ones who eat salads.

[su_highlight background=”#FFE0AB”]2 | Make it part of your daily routine. [/su_highlight]Gardening, like parenting, succeeds in direct proportion to your effort. Make time each day to pick, prune, and weed, and you’ll be rewarded by everything but tomatoes. And melons … and most berries, for that matter.

And now that I think about it, parenting isn’t like this at all. You can pour your very being into your child like a human giving tree, until all that remains of you is a haggard, empty vessel. Chances are, he’ll still end up huffing glue in the back alley of a Staples someday.

gardening with kids

[su_highlight background=”#FFE0AB”]3 | Deter pests creatively.[/su_highlight] Slugs like kale better than children do. But if you insist on growing this toothsome green, you can deter slugs with beer.

Here’s how it works: fill a small, empty tuna can with beer and leave it by the kale overnight to trap the slimy pests. Save this trick for later in the day so that you can pour the remainder of the beer down your throat. I find that slugs prefer an ice-cold IPA. Wait, did I say slugs? I meant me.

[su_highlight background=”#FFE0AB”]4 | Plan a farm-to-table night.[/su_highlight] Enlist your kids in helping you make a dinner solely comprised of veggies you picked from the garden: succotash, kale chips, and zucchini fries are all kid-friendly options. Remind them during the meal that they’re living off the land, just as they lived off milk from your body for the first years of their lives.

Explain how it’s our duty to protect “Mother” Nature because she’s synonymous with a life-giving teat that feeds all of humanity. Kids love this kind of talk, especially middle schoolers. Trust me.

[su_highlight background=”#FFE0AB”]5 | Think of the big picture.[/su_highlight] At the end of your life, as you lie listless on a hospital bed recounting your salad days (see what I did there?), I can promise you one thing: you will never, ever regret the time you spent in a garden with a child. So maybe, in the end, it’s not really about the vegetables at all.*

* Say this to yourself every time a crop fails.

Good luck and happy gardening!

Why Every Child Should Have a Forest of Their Own

More than books or lectures, a forest gives flight to imagination while teaching kids about the dynamics of our natural world.

In an ideal world, all children would have a forest in which they can explore and play. More than books or lectures, a forest gives flight to imagination and gives kids an example of our natural world.

More than books or lectures, a forest gives flight to imagination and gives kids an example of our natural world.

Trees carpet the hillside that climbs behind our home and extend along the river adjacent to the property. Oak trees tower over the surrounding maples, birches, and poplars. Gradually they transition to rugged hemlocks and the occasional white pine as the hillside drops to the local river branch.

I walk our dog in the forest just about every morning, either carefully along the hillside, or straight up to the local bike path. It’s quietly calm most of the time, and intensely beautiful when the light comes through the trees just right.

I grew up in a forest: my family built a home on 26 acres of a wooded hillside at the edge of the Green Mountains of Vermont. Growing up in a rural location meant that seeing friends was more complicated than jumping on a bike and riding over, so we made due.

The summer months meant hours of exploration deep in the forest, making our own trails (complete with signs), forts, hideaways and make-believe villages. Even today, a decade and a half after I left home, walking in a forest brings a sense of calm and balance to my mind.

My son and I walk up the steep hillside and into the woods with our dog, and the adventure begins.

A forest is a brilliant place when you’re two. My son and I walk up the steep hillside and into the woods with our dog, and the adventure begins. There are sticks to find on the forest floor, but also sounds of insects, acorns that tumble through the branches and squirrels that chitter away from above as we stomp around. Every time we take a walk, I get the question: “What’s that?”

Kid playing in forestForests are complicated ecosystems, teeming with life on every level.

Our education system reinforces and highlights forest environments from elementary to high school here in Vermont, with plenty of examples for study a short distance away from the classroom. But living and playing and breathing in the middle of a forest gets you attuned to how it lives and works. You become familiar with what lives and grows there.

Aside from everyday adventures, growing up close to nature provides grownups and kids with a connection to the living world itself: it is a tangible example of how the natural world works. The forest becomes something to value because it shows that home is more than just four walls and a roof; that there are more than roads and parking lots and human-created objects.

Introducing my son to the forest is more than recreational: it’s an educational introduction to the world that he will eventually inherit from my generation. I hope that he will develop the same curiosity and love for the trees that I keep with me to this day: it’s something to be treasured.

Plan your best 4th of July cookout with these 10 free guides

We like Fix.com‘s free expert visual guides. They break down seemingly complicated projects into simple, easy-to-follow steps. They have tons of visual guides for home projects like landscaping, gardening, and home repairs. They also cover camping, outdoor cooking, and exercise.

Here are eight great guides that demystify the best way to grill steaks, veggies, and chicken. They also include new grilling suggestions, as well as tips and tricks for easier entertaining.

We also included two guides for choosing white wine and creating delicious sangria for wine lovers.

1. Extreme Barbecue Appetizers

2. 10 Tips for Grilling Success 

3. Plan a Large Outdoor Cookout

4. How to Grill Your Favorite Veggies 

5. How to Grill Vegetables Like a Pro

6. Make No Mis-Steak

7. Grilling Perfect Chicken for the Backyard Barbecue Bash

8. Plank Grilling Pointers 

9. Sangria for Wine Lovers

10. Off-the-Beaten-Path White Wine Varieties

Source: Fix.com

Is bug repellent safe for kids? Plus, suggestions for what works.

Like many parents, I’ve never been convinced that chemical insect repellents are truly safe to use on my kid. DEET, in particular, creeps me out – once I accidentally sprayed some on a metal door, and the paint on the door immediately blistered up and peeled off.

DEET can irritate skin, but my primary concern was that it might bioaccumulate and cause neurotoxicity or cancer over time. I didn’t know if there was any basis to my fears, so I spent several hours researching my concerns. This is what I found.

Summary: What Actually Works

  • The repellents proven most effective are DEET, Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • DEET and picaridin are most recommended by health organizations in areas where mosquito-borne illnesses occur
  • There’s extensive evidence showing that they’re safe for humans when used properly.
  • However, a majority of parents (including me) have doubted this.
  • The percentage of active ingredient in bug repellent doesn’t measure its strength, but how long it’s effective over time.
  • Lower percentage repellents don’t repel bugs for as many hours as higher percentage repellents.
  • Lower percentage repellents need to be reapplied more often; products with less than 10% active ingredient offer  1–2 hours of protection (perfect for playing in the backyard after dinner, for example).
  • Consumer Reports says that “Repellents reach the maximum duration of effectiveness at 30%, so there’s no reason to exceed that level.”
  • Many repellents say they’re “EPA-Approved.” This doesn’t mean that the EPA says they’re effective, only that they’re safe to use.
  • Repellents do not protect all users equally and have varying effectiveness against different species of biting insect
  • Dealing with ticks is a bit different from dealing with flying insects; recommendations on ticks below.
  • Using a minimal amount of repellent based on the local environment and reapplying as needed is the safest bet.
  • Lotions last longer than sprays.
  • Sprays can be applied to clothing, where they’re effective longer than on skin.
  • Where insect-borne disease such as malaria, West Nile virus, or Eastern Equine Encephalitis is common, the danger from those serious illnesses is vastly greater than getting sick from insect repellents.

What I Do For My Kid & Why

Since insect-borne disease isn’t common where I live, DEET-free Cutter Eucalyptus Insect Repellent spray is what I usually use on my kid.

It’s the highest-rated natural insect repellent on Amazon.com. It’s based on oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is the most effective “natural” repellent – as effective as 7 – 10% concentrations of DEET. This means it has to be reapplied every 2 hours or so.

The CDC has recommended oil of lemon eucalyptus for children older than 3 in regions without malaria or West Nile virus. However, it isn’t super effective against sand flies or no-see-ums.

If my kid is away from the family and outside all day (for example, at day camp), I use Fisherman’s Formula Sawyer Picaridin, which was recently top-rated by Consumer Reports. I only use it on her exposed skin.

I’ve also had good luck with Natrapel picaridin wipes.

Picaridin is registered in over 40 countries worldwide and has been shown to be as effective as DEET, but without the smell, oily residue, or potential irritation to skin and eyes. Unlike DEET, picaridin won’t warp, melt, or discolor plastics and synthetic clothing or camping gear.

The World Health Organization recommends picaridin for malaria prophylaxis, saying  it “demonstrates excellent repellent properties comparable to, and often superior to, those of the standard DEET.”

Picaridin is a synthetic compound based on compounds from black pepper plants. It was developed in the 1980’s, is widely in Europe and Australia, and became available in the US in 2005. It’s rated as the longest lasting repellent with up to 14 hours of protection.

It works against mosquitoes and variety of flies, chiggers, and gnats. While manufacturers claim it’s effective against ticks, I haven’t found any third-party study that confirms this. (Indeed, even DEET seems to have a minimal effect against ticks.)


Here’s what you need to know about repelling ticks:

  • There are several types of ticks that spread several types of disease.
  • Only deer ticks transmit Lyme disease.
  • You have 24 hours to find and remove most ticks before they transmit disease.
  • Always check yourself and your kids thoroughly after outdoor adventures. Fair warning: ticks love to crawl up into warm, hidden places.
  • In infested areas, tucking your pants into your socks is dorky but highly effective for keeping ticks from biting.
  • Wearing smoother, light-colored tightly woven fabrics makes it easier to spot ticks vs densely woven fabrics like wool.
  • DEET and Picaridin are fairly poor tick repellents.
  • CDC recommends using products with 20% DEET on exposed skin to reduce biting by ticks.

About Permethrin

  • The most effective commonly available tick repellent is permethrin.
  • Permethrin must be sprayed on clothes. Never spray it directly on skin.
  • Allow 24-48 hours for clothes treated with permethrin to dry after spraying.
  • In infested ears, shoes, shorts, and pants treated with permethrin, and socks treated from the ankles up are recommended, along with DEET on skin.
  • Commercially-treated permethrin-coated clothes can last up to 70 wash cycles and are recommended for heavily tick-infested areas.


When applied as directed, DEET is considered safe by most public health organizations. But concerns endure. In Vermont I choose not to use it. I would use it if I was traveling in an area infested with malaria or other insect borne diseases. The danger of those diseases is greater than the risk from normal use of DEET.

  • Consumer Reports writes that DEET in high concentrations can cause rashes and disorientation.
  • Rare allergic, or toxic reactions have been reported for people with chemical sensitivity.
  • Nearly all of the DEET that is taken in through the skin is eliminated by the body within 24 hours of applying it.
  • Disconcertingly, DEET can warp or discolor some plastics and synthetic fabrics.
  • The EPA found “no toxicologically significant effects in animal studies
  • According the the EPA, DEET is “not classifiable as a human carcinogen”, which means that there is not enough evidence to say that it does or does not cause cancer.
  • The EPA says it has “no evidence that DEET is uniquely toxic to infants and/or children, “but still had “concerns regarding these reported seizures”
  • The Canadian government recommendations limit DEET to 30% in any product and even weaker concentrations for young children (Canada 2012).

Non-chemical ways to avoid getting bitten by bugs:

  • Scented shampoo, soaps, sprays and lotions seem to attract biting insects.
  • Likewise, brighter colors seem to attract insects.
  • Wear a brimmed hat to keep bugs away from the face.
  • Wear tall light colored socks to make spotting ticks easy.
  • Use mosquito nets over strollers and carriers where your baby may be exposed to insects.


  • Pesticides and chemicals and general are more toxic for kids than adults because of greater surface area to body weight ratio
  • Never use any insect repellents on a baby less than two months old. (via the American Academy of Pediatrics)
  • Repellents based on lemon eucalyptus shouldn’t be used on kids younger than 3, because they haven’t been thoroughly tested on them.
  • Don’t apply bug repellent under clothing.
  • Never use products that combine repellent and sunscreen. Sunscreens should be lathered on frequently, bug spray is safest used minimally.
  • The CDC recommends applying sunscreen first, then insect repellent.
  • Keep in mind that sunscreen and bug repellent lose effectiveness when blended.
  • Don’t allow kids to apply bug repellents to themselves.
  • Don’t put repellents on the palms of kids. Apply to your hands and then apply to the child’s skin.
  • Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin. Heavy application isn’t necessary for effectiveness. Simply apply a bit more repellent if it isn’t working effectively enough.
  • Do not spray onto face; spray on hands then apply to face.
  • Never use repellents on cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Some kids have sensitive skin, which will be irritated by any insect repellent.
  • Do not put in eyes and mouth (I know you knew that)
  • Apply sparingly around ears.
  • Don’t let residue build up overnight. Wash skin with soap and water or bathe at the end of the day.
  • Pregnant women should take care to avoid exposures to repellents as much as possible.
  • Keep repellents out of the reach of children.
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas.
  • Avoid breathing in bug spray.
  • Don’t spray near food.

Contact the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at 1-800-858-7378