In today's fast-paced and connected world, our children sadly
spend most of their time indoors, parked in front of the television
or a computer rather than playing outside. Recent studies have
noted that children spend more than 44 hours per week on plugged-in
activities and that kids can identify up to 1,000 corporate logos,
but fewer than 10 plants or animals native to their backyards.
In 2009, the Chicago Wilderness Alliance enacted the first-ever
Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights, urging parents to step outdoors
with their children and provide them with the opportunity to enjoy
10 outdoor experiences in danger of extinction. Research and
anecdotal evidence proves that playing outdoors reduces stress,
improves concentration and promotes creative thinking.
Luckily we live in Chicago, where even our city motto, Urbs in
Horto, Latin for 'City in a Garden', reminds us that you don't have
to live in the country to enjoy fresh air and sunshine. Make it
your goal this spring and summer to take advantage of the beautiful
weather and help your children check off each activity on the
Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights.
- Discover wilderness.
We're surrounded by prairies but don't forget to introduce
your kids to area dunes, forests, savannas and wetlands. The
Indiana Dunes are just
a hop, skip and a fun slide down the sand away. The West DuPage Woods
is a mix of woodland, wetland and prairie, providing diverse
habitats for plants and animals and the perfect setting for a
- Camp under the stars. For kids, a
vacation that involves getting dirty, swimming, canoeing, building
a fire to roast hot dogs and s'mores, watching your mom attempt to
reel in a fish, telling ghost stories in the dark and then zipping
up a tent with your family is none other than heaven. Try the
Illinois Department of National Resources' listing of State Park campgrounds.
- Follow a trail. Formerly a railway path,
the Illinois Prairie Path is a 62-mile multi-use limestone trail
that runs through some of the most beautiful and accessible prairie
lands in Cook, DuPage and Kane counties and one of the best trails
for a family bike trek. Visit ipp.org for maps and more
- Fish, frogs, and insects. At
dupageforest.com, you'll find info on kid-friendly lakes for catch
and release fishing in nearby DuPage County. Pickerel Lake, for
example, at Pratt's Wayne Woods Forest Preserve in Wayne, will be
stocked with about 1,080 fish this year. Grove Lake at Wood Dale
Grove Forest Preserve in Wood Dale and Blackwell Forest Preserve in
Warrenville are also recommended for young anglers.
- Climb a tree. Take your child to
discover the lost art of tree climbing today at your nearest park.
Better yet, consider planting a tree in your own backyard.
Arborday.org is a great resource for help with finding a suitable
- Nature in neighborhoods. The Chicago
Park District manages 7,600-plus acres of parkland, including 570
parks, 24 miles of lakefront, 11 savannas/woodlands, five wetlands
and 22 prairies/grasslands. Despite living in the city, we don't
have to go far for nature. Familiarize yourself and your children
with all that our city and its neighborhoods have to offer
- Celebrate heritage. Skip the movies and
the mall and enjoy family time outdoors with a picnic, a hike or a
backyard campout. Take a walk with grandma and grandpa or grab an
ice cream cone and sit under a tree with your favorite cousin.
Catch lightning bugs with your best friend or pick flowers for your
favorite neighbor. Nature is the perfect backdrop for time spent
with family and friends.
- Plant a flower. Better yet, plant an
herb garden. Sprout some seeds in egg cartons filled with potting
soil, then transfer to your backyard or a window box. Learn to cook
some healthy dishes with your harvest.
- Play in the mud or a stream. Don't let
the rain keep you indoors. Throw on some play clothes, your
raincoat and a pair of boots and head outdoors to splash in the
puddles with your child.
- Learn to swim. Swimming is a necessary
life skill, both for safety and enjoyment. The Chicago Park
District offers free swimming instruction at all of its 26 indoor
pools and 51 outdoor pools.
Amy Bizzarri is a mom of two living in Logan Square. She also blogs at tiramisumom.com.
See more of Amy's stories here.