Nature camps and adventures

4 fun ways to play, learn, and explore this summer

One of the things I love most about summer is the chance to get my children out in nature with me. The time I spent as a child, in and around the ocean with my father and grandfather, was the foundation for my becoming an explorer and environmentalist. That kind of experience is what I want to give to my kids now—to be in nature with them as they learn, play, discover, and grow. It’s also good for them: Studies show the spending time in nature helps increase children’s concentration, mental acuity, inventiveness, and ability to take part in creative play.

The good news is that there are lots of ways we can help our kids can experience and learn about nature. Here are four ideas—from simple to splurge-y—to consider this summer.

1.     Play at local preserves and parks

Check your local parklands for family and children’s programs. Many offer fun activities like nature crafts, guided walks, and chances to (safely) see and learn about local wildlife. Some might offer one-day programs; others might offer multi-day or even multi-week camps. No matter what, they’re a great—and often economical—way to help your kids learn about nature.

Introductions. Maumee Bay State Park.

Introductions. Maumee Bay State Park.

2.     Volunteer on vacation

When you’re planning your family getaway, check into local nature or environmental organizations that welcome drop-in volunteers of all ages. Going to New York City? Consider joining a one-day “Pitch In, Pick Up” activity to help keep Central Park clean. Heading for Disneyworld? Oakland Nature Preserve, in Orlando, organizes special volunteer activities every Saturday morning.

3.     Take your family camping

Pitching a tent, building a campfire, telling stories as the stars come out—there’s really nothing like camping to get your kids excited about nature. If you’re not experienced, keep it simple and spend just a night or two at a nearby campground. Some outdoor stores rent equipment and have knowledgeable staff to get you set up safely. A growing number of “glamping” destinations have sprung up around the country too, offering ready-made camping experiences ranging from funky-fun, like the retro Airstream trailers at Autocamp in Santa Barbara, California, to the tricked-out safari tents and tipis at Montana’s Yellowstone Under Canvas. 

Finding the joy in the little things. (Jason Pohlmeier/Share the Experience)

Finding the joy in the little things. (Jason Pohlmeier/Share the Experience)

4.     Splurge on a family adventure in nature

If you’re active, there’s a good chance your kids are too. Outfitters have answered the call with a host of unforgettable adventures for families, like kid-friendly river-rafting trips down a stretch of Utah’s spectacular Green River, offered by O.A.R.S. and other outfitters. Backroads offers multisport adventures for families in Hawaii, Nova Scotia, and other destinations.

You can also consider special nature camps, like College of the Atlantic’s multiday family nature camp in Bar Harbor, Maine, with whale-watching, hiking in Acadia National Park, and more.

For a truly immersive experience, check out Green School, an extraordinary 20-acre compound in central Bali that teaches families how to live holistically and sustainably. I am fortunate to be able to visit the school with my family early next year, and I can’t wait to share all that I learn with you. For me, I trust that the ultimate lesson will be one of hope—that together, we can all help preserve, protect, and restore our earth, and make it a better place for everyone.

Finding freedom at Green School in Bali.

Finding freedom at Green School in Bali.