Since school closures swept the north country last week as a result of the nationwide coronavirus pandemic, many parents have spent hours scrambling to find websites and other educational resources for their children.
At the same time, some have been juggling with the challenges of working remotely from home, and others, dealing with the financial stress of losing their employment.
To say this past week has been a challenging time for families with children at home would be an understatement.
So many places have closed to prevent the spread of the virus, but there is one place that parents can still take their children – the outdoors.
They just need to be careful about it.
On Friday, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a strict state policy called “NYS on Pause” that among other things, mandated all non-essential workers remain at home, and prohibited gatherings of any size.
He also stated for those healthy individuals under the age of 70, “if you go outside to exercise, keep it to solitary activity. And keep 6 feet of distance from others.”
So…what can you do with the kids outside?
When parents take their children outdoors, they often discover many “teachable moments” to offer first-hand lessons in nature, biology, and the importance of conservation.
Nonprofit land trusts and other organizations throughout the north country, along with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, offer parents a wealth of resources and information to integrate education and nature.
While land trusts have earned a reputation for working diligently to preserve vital natural resources and protect thousands of acres for public recreational activities, they have also played a vital role in helping children develop a greater appreciation for the outdoors and the importance of conservation.
Their educational programs have traditionally been offered at schools, libraries and other community settings, but with group activities being cancelled in wake of the coronavirus pandemic, some organizations are offering help online.
“For parents with children now home from school, these times can be especially challenging, so we’ll be providing resources to incorporate learning” in outdoor settings, said Linda Garrett, executive director of the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust.
The land trust will be developing an environmental education page on its website in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, it will regularly post activities and suggestions on its Facebook page, she said.
Some already posted include a scavenger hunt worksheet that lists items children can search for outside – such as leaves, a crooked stick, a rock and an acorn, along with “something round” and “something that you think is pretty.”
There is also a link to the Cornell Lab Bird Cam, which offers children “a virtual window into the natural world of birds” and has video highlights of birds throughout the state.
The land trust also offers suggestions for connecting children and young adults with nature, such as math lessons outside with sidewalk chalk, practicing handwriting by painting letters on gathered rocks, and creating artwork with leaves, grass and sticks (from the Stop Nature Deficient Disorder organization).
For more information: www.tughilltomorrowlandtrust.org
Nature Up North, a project of St. Lawrence University, provides resources for teachers, including hands-on outdoor lesson plans and activity guides to help students learn more about the local environment.
Parents seeking ideas for science education can find lesson plans on aquatic insects, including living organisms in the St. Lawrence River, and examples of food chains featuring local species.
For more information: www.natureupnorth.org
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is encouraging families with children at home to visit its educational website page to find a range of fun outdoor activities to help children explore nature.
There are also a variety of lesson plans for different grade levels, and children can also read about nature in the “Conservationist for Kids” section.
For more information: www.dec.ny.gov
Just a final reminder of why it’s so important to be (safely) outside.
“During the current COVID-19 public health crisis, getting outdoors and connecting with nature is a way to help maintain our mental and physical health,” according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “Scientific studies show that time outside in nature, especially among trees, significantly reduces stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, improves mood, energy, and sleep, and boosts the immune system.”