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. As adults, both male and female fireflies flash to communicate and...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
Build a Fort and let the Imagination and Cooperation Begin!
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
My name is Walter Stankiewicz, and I am a Volunteer In Service To America working with Texas Children in Nature (TCiN) program at Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters in Austin, Texas. My role as a VISTA is to fight poverty in Texas. Doing so can take several forms, and TCiN is taking a rather unique and creative approach. Studies show that children who learn and play with nature are healthier (both physically and mentally), have higher self-esteem, get along with others better, are more creative, and the list goes on. So, our goal is to get more Texans engaged with nature because nature is a public health strategy.
One of my personal goals as a VISTA is to eradicate poverty in Texas. I know it’s unlikely that the poverty rate will be 0% by the time my service is done, but hopefully I’ll be closer to my goal then than I am now. My plan is to strengthen the relationship between Texas Children in Nature and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to increase the number of outdoor activities available for Texans. Secondly, I plan to maximize...more
Put Nature on Your Calendar This Year
As part of your New Years Resolution to be healthier in 2017, make sure you include plenty of time in nature. Research shows that spending time in nature is good not just for physical health, but mental health as well. So rather then spending a fortune on a gym membership, and hours walking on a noisy treadmill, why not escape into nature for a rejuvenating power walk?
Think nature is some far-away-place that you need lots of time, money and gear to get to? Not so. There are plenty of parks, nature centers and nature-based activities right in your own community. Texas Children in Nature has made it easy to find nature near you with their website NatureRocksTexas.org. You could even make a challenge for you and your family to visit a new park every day or at least every week.
The National Park Foundation also wants to help you explore the natural wonders of America. Their website FindYourPark.org lists 546 National...more
I fondly remember when my grandfather gave me my first Swiss Army knife for Christmas. That afternoon we collected a few sticks and he shared the whittling techniques that his father had imparted to him. There wasn’t s stick in the yard that was safe as I spent hours trying to craft the perfect spear.
The holidays are about spending time with friends and family, food and festivities, and giving thanks. This year when considering gifts for those loved ones on your list, give the gift of time and togetherness while enjoying the outdoor pursuits.
There are gifts large and small that can foster togetherness in the outdoors. Here are a few ideas to get you started on the journey towards a fun year of exploration and adventure.
Be safe this year with a quality bike helmet. The Bell Adrenaline or Schwinn Thrasher bike helmets are high quality and multi-purpose for adults and kids.
The trifecta gift for the birder in your life could be the binocular, book, birdfeeder combo. Alpen make a nice...more
15 Family Fun Places to Camp in Texas
At Texas Children in Nature we emphasize the benefits of a daily connection with nature for kids and families. But there is something extra special about a family campout during the summer in Texas. For some, that might sound like a hot, buggy proposition. Being prepared can mitigate the heat and the pests so you can focus on the fun. Knowing where to go to maximize your family fun time is also important. We’ve compiled a list of 15 great places to camp with the family during the summer.
Tyler State Park: At Tyler SP you can boat, fish, swim, camp, picnic, have a reunion, or take a nature walk. Set in the towering pines of east Texas, this park offers 13 miles of hiking and biking trails, plus a large lake for water activities. There are limited use cabins, screen shelters, RV and tent sites for camping.
September 26, 2017Jennifer Bristol
Texas Children in Nature (TCiN) is hosting the first Summit and Champions Awards Luncheon in San Antonio, TX on November 7 and 8, 2017. The Summit will bring together leaders from the conservation, education, health, built-environment and youth development communities for two days of learning about the latest research, sharing innovations and turning inspiration into action.
TCiN is proud to honor the 2017 Champions of Children in Nature. This year TCiN is recognizing one individual and three organizations for their outstanding work to improve the lives of children through a connection with nature. Each Champion has made considerable contributions towards achieving the TCiN strategic goals of enhancing education methods to include more time outdoors, improving the health and wellness of children and families, creating a since of place and community, and expanding access to nature in Texas. This years Champions are:
Peggy Carnahan – For her efforts in creating Project ACORN so kids in San Antonio could learn more about the nature they live and play...more
Carli Herz Featuring Brandi Heasley
Three hundred individuals gathered in San Antonio on November 7th and 8th 2017 to celebrate, learn, and network among some of the most inspirational and dedicated organizations in Texas when it comes to connecting children and their families with nature. The summit was a two-day event filled with workshops, professional development, and trips out into the field to view some of the innovative projects that were happening in San Antonio. The goal of the TCiN Summit was not just to provide information. The Summit was meant to give individuals and groups a platform for developing community and individual action plans. Day 1 was filled with knowledge and information on programs, and research. Day 2 was a time for brainstorming, collaboration and practice through Action Labs based on the TCiN five strategic plan categories- Health, Education, Community, Access, Marketing.
My position as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Texas Children in Nature afforded me a unique experience participating in the Summit. However, we had five other AmeriCorps VISTAs from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department...more