Activities and advice for enjoying nature with your kids.
Day at the Museum
Cold out? Explore nature indoors at a natural history or science museum. To make the most of your visit—and to keep the kids’ weary groans at bay—follow these tips. For more ideas, visit the Smithsonian Institution.
Before you go
- Research. Museums’ names can be obscure (e.g., Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum features natural history), so finding the right one near you could mean digging. Then call or go online to learn about hours of operation, family rates, location, and special exhibitions. Ninety minutes is about the right amount of time for touring exhibits. Be careful about popular times/days.
- Involve your kids in planning the visit. Ask them what they’re interested in, and tailor the trip to their tastes. (Tip: Dinosaurs.)
At the museum
- Get a map from the information desk. Note bathrooms and food.
- Treasure hunt! Buy postcards at the gift shop and challenge your kids to find what’s featured. Search for common themes, such as patterns (e.g., diamond shapes).
- Let kids explore whatever interests them, but keep in mind that a cursory overview risks missing out on important lessons offered by specific exhibits.
- Ask questions that will help children make connections between displays and the real world, such as, What does that remind you of? (e.g., an animal bone might resemble a human bone) and, Is there anything here that surprises you?
- Encourage your kids to ask their own questions—and write down the ones that remain unanswered.
After your trip
- Relive the experience by sharing photographs from the trip with friends.
- Find out answers to lingering questions.
“I had parents who encouraged questions and also thought it was okay to get muddy. We went to the Jersey Shore for vacations—that’s where I first fell in love with the ocean. The big, craggy horseshoe crabs would come up onto the beach. It won my heart.”—Sylvia Earle, oceanographer
Can You Count to 11 Million?
Bundle up the family and head outside this February 12–15 for the 13th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, organized by National Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. In 2009 citizen scientists across North America tallied more than 11 million birds and 600 species. Scientists can use these data to understand correlations between climate change and birds.
Before venturing out, show your kids images of your area’s common species. Then, for 15 minutes on any of the four designated days, count and record every bird you see. Up the fun by challenging your kids to a contest: Whoever sees the most birds wins a week free of household chores. Also encourage family members to submit bird-count photos to Audubon for a chance to win cool prizes. Enter your data here. Don’t worry about misidentifying birds; experts double-check any data that seem off, says Melissa Hopkins, an education and centers program manager for Audubon. The bottom line: Make the day fun and enlightening. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.—Michele Wilson
Reuse your (clean) empty milk carton to build a birdfeeder. Cut two large openings on opposite sides of the container a couple of inches up from the bottom. Punch a hole through the top and tie on sturdy twine. Create perches by poking a straight twig or dowel through the cardboard, just under each window. Pour in black oil sunflower seed up to the openings. Hang your feeder within a couple of feet of a window to maximize your view and minimize the chance that a startled bird will injure itself by flying into the glass. For more about milk carton birdfeeders, check out Audubon Adventures’ classroom curriculum at Audubon.org. —Lynne Peeples
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