The day was hot and dry in Coldwater, Kansas, and per usual, the wind blew, throwing clouds of dirt across the land. The weather never deterred my grandparents from spending nearly every weekend at Coldwater Lake, with me in tow. I remember splashing in the waves, digging up worms from the hard earth and casting a line with my grandpa in hopes of catching dinner. These are my very first memories of the outdoors. What I don’t remember about these trips is finding other children that looked like me.
I attended Western Kentucky University to pursue my passion for the environment. I studied geology, with a concentration in cave and karst environments, and journalism. While the journalism department was teeming with diversity, in the geology department, I found myself in a similar place I had been in my childhood. Once again, I was the outlier – the only black woman mapping outcrops and squeezing through tight cave passages.
All children have a right to the outdoors and to the advantages of being able to connect to nature. Environmental equity is a crucial part of...more
Have you ever volunteered your time to support a meaningful cause? Whether it’s donating your time to help clean litter from a park, serve food to the hungry, or collect toys for children without them, serving a mission that is good for society can give you a sense of fulfillment or purpose.
People volunteer for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they have to (e.g., required community service hours). Some volunteer because they genuinely care about a mission or cause and feel compelled to devote their time to it. Others may volunteer because they have (or choose to have) the time and recognize the value of “giving back” to society in a constructive way.
I fall into the latter bucket of volunteers, and I could not be happier to dedicate my time in a year of service with the mission of strengthening organizations that work to alleviate poverty in the United States.
What am I? I am an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America), and my organization is the Texas Children in Nature (TCiN) network of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department....more
Do you remember learning about the official Texas symbols in school as a kid? Our state flower is the bluebonnet, state insect is the monarch butterfly, state small mammal is the nine-banded armadillo, state large mammal the Longhorn, and state reptile is the Texas horned lizard (aka, horny toad), to name a few. I remember learning about the symbols and thinking how cool it was to watch monarch caterpillars munch on milkweed in my Aunt’s garden in San Antonio.
The land and waters of the State of Texas provide important habitat for copious plant and animal species. Many of us have marveled at the sight of iconic state and national symbols, and many other species that get far less attention.
A recent global report illustrates that we are at risk of losing 1 million plant and animal species worldwide. Does it startle you to learn that in Texas alone...more
Jennifer L. Bristol
Nature Rocks Texas is a website designed to help families find nature-based activities and places to play, explore, and connect with nature in their communities. It is just one of the many ways Texas Children in Nature promotes our partners and the amazing work they do every day to create opportunities for children and families to get outside and learn about nature.
Nature Rocks Texas now covers over 100 counties and serves most major cities and regions including; Austin and Central Texas, San Antonio and South Texas, Rio Grande Valley, Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend, D/FW and North Texas, Lubbock and the Caprock, and the Pineywoods.
Each region has hundreds of parks and nature centers to explore, making it easy to step out the door and connect with nature quickly. Texas has a rich and diverse ecology from refreshing lakes to thick pine forests to miles of sandy beaches. Nature Rocks Texas wants to celebrate the rich natural and cultural diversity of the state by offering a one-stop-shopping website to find new and...more
Do you know what Walt Disney movies and famous painters, writers and musicians like Monet, Frida Kahlo, Kipling, Virginia Woolf, and Beethoven have in common? The natural world helped inspire their creative genius.
Creativity is a trait that is relevant to more than just the arts. To be creative means to use one’s imagination or original ideas and is very important in many basic facets of life or employment, where innovative thinking or problem-solving is required.
Did you ever have a fascination with bugs as a kid? Do you remember what it was like to chase them around in relentless efforts to catch them? As a kid I was fascinated with the grasshoppers that lived on my parents’ property south of San Antonio. Handfuls of them would take flight or jump out of my path with each step as I stalked them in my backyard. I would catch them with my bare hands, and sometimes use a butterfly net to catch as many as I could and compare them all. Even when I couldn’t see them, I knew they were there by the “singing” sounds they made. Learning and playing in nature kept me busy and kept me moving.
What children experience in their early years has a significant impact on their brain development, and therefore their physical and mental health, as well as learning and behavior, into adulthood. For example, children with obesity are...more
There is something so magical about fireflies. The way they light up the night sky just begs to be chased and admired by all ages. I remember putting my hand beneath them as a kid when they flew along my campsite in South Llano River State Park, feeling cool air radiate from them onto my skin and marveling at the sensation. Some people call them lightning bugs, while others call them fireflies. Whatever you choose to call them, there’s no doubt these cool bugs capture everyone’s attention as they set the world aglow in warm summer nights.
Fireflies have relatively short lifespans. Adults live for about a month until they mate and lay eggs into the ground, which hatch larvae (known as glowworms). The larvae then live for 1-2 years underground before entering the pupa phase and finally grow into adulthood....more
Do you remember what it was like to play in the sandbox as a kid? After you took your shoes off the grains of sand would be plastered around your feet and toes? When I was a kid, the surface of the playground at my daycare and local park were covered with sand. I remember digging in it, feeling slow as molasses when I ran across it, and how it cushioned my landing every time I landed in it after sliding down the slide. I also remember fondly the mounds of sand I dumped from my shoes and socks as some sort of measure of how hard I’d played that day.
As a kid playtime was just fun and games to me; as an adult I now know that I was learning important lessons during that time. Unstructured play is vitally important for a child’s development, helping children build foundational physical, emotional, social and intellectual skills they need to thrive. As adults we have to remember that learning isn’t just reserved for the classroom.
While it’s true that children can...more
Do you remember when you planted a seed in school? And do you remember how excited you were to take care of it and watch it grow? When I was a kid, trying (unsuccessfully) to plant my own backyard garden and growing squash and zucchini at school were some of my favorite things. Little did I know that these activities were helping me be healthier—not just physically but mentally as well.
While all children should be able to have similar experiences with nature, not all children have equitable access to nature for this to become their reality.more
Do you remember playing with pill bugs (roly polies) as they marched across the dirt in your backyard? Or building tiny huts out of sticks and grass to make fairy huts or forts? Those tiny worlds held your attention for hours and all the ingredients you needed came from the natural world that surrounded you and your own endless imagination.
Nature presents unstructured challenges and opportunities for children to use their own ideas and curiosity to explore, problem-solve and learn from. Activities like a simple outdoor game of hide-and-seek, figuring out how to climb a tree, or chasing a firefly for close inspection allow children to make observations, look for patterns, listen for clues, try different things, and develop their problem-solving skills.
A growing body of research continues to suggest that children who spend more time in nature are...more
Do you remember what it felt like to play outside when you were a child? I get sentimental when I remember making mud pies and cactus berry “jelly” under the shade of my parents’ live oak trees south of San Antonio. Many of us have wonderful childhood memories of our time outdoors, but what will our kids remember about their childhood?
We have allowed our children to become disconnected with nature, spending more time indoors...more
Have you ever planted a seed and watched it grow? Did you know that seeds come in many shapes, textures and colors? Seeds can be flat or raised, round or oval. Some seeds are fuzzy, while some seeds are wrinkled or smooth. They may be brown, red, green, yellow, or even multiple colors, too. But what they all have in common is that seeds contain baby plants that you and your family can enjoy planting in nature near you. Here is a list of a few events across Texas where you can learn about plants and maybe even get your hands dirty.
Austin: PEAS and Slow Food Austin Seedling Social, March 30. The Seedling Social garden party is for adults and kids alike. Join for food, fun, music, kids’ activities and gardening information. They’ll have seedlings for you to take home and grow in your own garden and raffle prizes. Time: 11am-2pm. $5 admission for adults, kids are FREE.
Here’s a fun fact for you: President George W. Bush and President John F. Kennedy were both avid cyclists. They enjoyed the simple pleasure of riding bike outside, even before becoming presidents. In honor of President’s Day, (Monday, February 18th), we present you with this list of fun places in Texas to ride a bike and enjoy the wonders of nature. Riding bikes is a fun activity that multi-generations can participate together to stay healthy and explore the outdoors.
Austin: Violet Crown Trail Beginning at Zilker Park, the Violet Crown Trail follows Barton Creek Greenbelt along some of the most stunning and well-loved areas of Barton Creek, from Campbell’s Hole and The Flats to several popular climbing walls. There are two additional trailheads along this section which can be used for entry/exit, the Spyglass Trailhead and the Gus Fruh Trailhead. This map shows the section that ends at the 360 trailhead, about 4 miles down the trail from Zilker Park. Both trailheads, 360 and Zilker, offer...more
Jennifer L. Bristol
Corpus Christi Organizations Honored for work to Connect Children with Nature
Three Corpus Christi area organizations and one state agency will be honored Dec. 6, 2018 at the Texas Children in Nature (TCiN) statewide Summit and Champions Luncheon. The Summit brings together leaders from the conservation, education, health, faith and youth development communities to share innovations and network to turn inspiration into action. The TCiN network is proud to honor four organizations that go above and beyond to connect children and families with nature to improve their health and wellbeing, and provide a sense of place.
TCiN is a program of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), that supports a network of over 500 partner organizations that are dedicated to creating equitable access to nature for all Texans. Research shows that children spend between 7-11 hours per day indoors with media and only minutes per day playing in nature. This shift in behavior has lead to a...more
Contact: Jason A. Ginder
For Immediate Release: September 20, 2018
Big Thicket National Preserve Receives Open OutDoors for Kids Focus City Grant From the National Park Foundation
KOUNTZE, Texas, September 20, 2018– Big Thicket National Preserve and the City of Houston have been selected to receive an Open OutDoors for Kids Focus City grant for the 2018-2019 school year from the National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service. With this grant National Park Service staff can continue working with our partners to facilitate educational field trips for fourth grade students in the Greater Houston Area. By working together to introduce young people to the public lands around them, we can help create a happier and healthier community.
This grant is part of the Foundation’s Open OutDoors for Kids program which creates pathways for kids to explore and connect with park experiences. Beyond making field trips possible, the program raises local community awareness about the importance of...more
Sometimes one of the best places for children to start their journey towards a lifelong love of nature is on the pages of a great book. For me, books like Billy and Blaze, A Pony for Linda, and Jennifer's Walk all fed my imagination and inspired me to explore. Texas Children in Nature has complied a list of fun reads for children. While reading inside is good, reading outside under the shade of a favorite tree is even better.
Like many young girls do, the young girl in this story wonders what it’s really like to be a princess. She asks her mother copious questions in hopes of finding out. “Do princesses climb trees? Do they ride tricycles?” This tale encourages readers to follow their dreams.
"The stars at night are big and bright- deep in the heart of Texas." and so the song goes. But did you know that August is one of the best times to sit out under the big Texas sky with your family and watch for shooting stars? Each year between July and August the Perseids meteor shower passes over North America and lights up the sky. Do you remember the first time you wished upon a shooting star? Put nature on your calendar this month, only it might be a little later than most of your other outdoor adventures. Each month TCiN tries to highlight an Outdoor Activity of the Month. Here are a few suggestions on where to enjoy the night skies.
Colorado Bend State Park- Colorado Bend State Park is a popular star-gazing destination since it’s an hour and a half from the nearest sources of light...more
Everything is bigger in Texas, we all know that. But have you ever noticed that most public schools in Texas have big campuses? Probably not. Well, most are and that’s a good thing when we consider getting kids connected with nature.
The City of Austin recently participated in a program with the National League of Cities and C&NN to look at all the policies and practices they follow, or could improve, to connect children and families with nature. Through a mapping exercise, the City discovered that several low-income, high density communities where lacking in accessible parks. They were also lacking in land to add new parks. This was a problem considering the City has a policy that says all citizens should live within a quarter mile of park.
The solution? Rethink public school campuses as community parks during out-of-school-time. The Green School Parks concept was conceived, and later implemented in the Runburg community of...more
Walter Stankiewicz- TCiN VISTA
I have recently moved to Texas to serve as a VISTA with the Texas Children in Nature program at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. However, I was born and raised in Central Pennsylvania in a small town called Boiling Springs. My hometown is particularly important on the east coast because it marks the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail (AT). The Trail starts in Georgia and travels north over 2,000 miles to its terminus in Maine. Boiling Springs is a hub for thru-hikers as a place where they can restock on supplies, grab a warm meal, and get a good night’s sleep before heading back out on the trail.
I met several hikers throughout the years and learned a great deal about them, about the AT, and about the long-trail hiking culture. Lots of hikers walk the trail because they love nature. Some want to complete it for personal pride. Others hike it in search of closure after a life-changing event. Many describe it as “finding yourself.” Completing the Appalachian Trail can be cathartic, reminding those who do it of their personal strength and ambition.
Austin, TX: On March 24, 2018 kids, parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials gathered together to dedicate the first Green School Park at Barrington Elementary School in Austin, TX. The Green School Park concept is a partnership between the Austin Independent School District (AISD) and the City of Austin (CoA) to activate school campuses with outdoor classrooms and natural play areas. The intentional design of the campus allows for outdoor learning during school time and acts as a park for the community during out-of-school time.
The Green School Park concept is an outgrowth of the Cities Connection Children to Nature (CCCN) project that is a partnership between National League of Cities, Children and Nature Network (C&NN) and the City of Austin. Barrington Elementary School was chosen for the project after the CCCN leadership team mapped the city to look for neighborhoods that have a park deficit. Like many neighborhoods in Austin, the community around Barrington grew quickly and did not...more