Finding nature in your own backyard

Most of today’s parents can remember lying in the grass to find shapes in clouds or watching as a line of ants marched by. But today’s children often don’t have those simple experiences their parents took for granted, says Leslee Spraggens, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Illinois.

“We did a national poll of young people and found kids are not getting out into nature as much as they should,” Spraggens says, adding the numbers show only 6 percent of 9- to 13-year-olds play outside on their own.

“Research also tells us that kids who spend time in nature are happier, healthier and more creative.”

To help get kids started playing in nature, the conservancy has developed “treasure hunts.” The most popular hunt is the one that encourages children to build a tiny home with things from nature. “You collect things to make it with: moss, rock, bark.

And then you put it together in a way that you might imagine something small might use it,” Spraggens says. “You can put in steps and stairwells or make it multi-level. It allows kids to really explore things in a new way.”

The treasure hunts can be done in backyards, forest preserves, even in the parkway grass between a sidewalk and the street, Spraggens says. It can be as simple as turning over a rock or log to explore the creatures that live underneath.

“Most adults did spend a lot of time outside… but now kids and their parents either have so little time or so little access, they can’t create their own adventure,” Spraggens says.

The Nature Conservancy also operates prairies and preserves within driving distance of Chicago, with regularly scheduled tours and events.

Find more For treasure hunts, visit

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