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
October 6, 2017Carli Herz, TCiN VISTA
“Sorry, but what is a VISTA?” is a phrase I have heard many times when I have tried to explain to those who ask, what it is I do for a living. I have always had a complicated time explaining this. So far, none of my “jobs” have ever been able to fit into a one-word phrase or a sentence of explanation, so I simplify it. “I’m a teacher, I work with the environment, I work with kids.” These things people understand, or at least they can nod their heads and pretend that they get it. I can’t say I’m not guilty of this myself.
There have certainly been times a person tells me they work in business or they have a position working with technology and I have nodded my head and smiled. Everyone has different passions and we don’t all understand them, but what being a VISTA has taught me so far, is that our passions deserve the respect of a full explanation whether people understand it or not. My position as a VISTA isn’t just a job that fills the requirements for my graduate program, being a VISTA means growing professionally and personally. So I will share three major realizations...more
It’s that time of year again. Summer is ending and it’s time for millions of kids across Texas to head back to school. While parents are busy collecting school supplies, and squeezing in last minute summer adventures, teachers are working hard on establishing lesson plans for the year.
There are lots of resources out there for teachers to help them bring nature into the classroom. Texas Children in Nature has tried to collect many of the resources that are focused on educating youth about the animals, aquatic life, ecosystems and plants of Texas. Many of the resources are listed below, but more can be found on the Nature Rocks Texas website located in your region. Nature Rocks Texas websites can be found in- Austin, Caprock, Coastal Bend, North Texas, Pineywoods, and San Antonio. Coming soon to the Rio Grande Valley!
Educators might also be interested in starting a schoolyard habitat or natural play area on their campus this year. There are some good resources for that as well and are listed after the curriculum resources.
Looking for a cool reward to students...more
August 21, 2015Jennifer Bristol
A few years ago I had a friend tell me that the day care her child went to had removed all the trees from the play area. When she asked the administrators why they had removed the trees, they explained to her that they were a hazard because the kids kept playing with the sticks. My friend inquired if anyone was injured from the sticks and the administrator said they didn’t think so, but it could happen.
The next week she returned and discovered that the kids had not gone outside all week. When she asked the childcare provider why not, they responded that it was too hot since all the shade was removed.
Thank goodness children in Texas can expect to see trees again! The new guidelines set forth for childcare centers by the Texas Workforce Commission offer incentives for centers to include “outdoor learning environments.”
With help from National Wildlife Federation, the new policies...more
Wake up. Eat breakfast. Watch the news. Watch the traffic report. Become part of the traffic report. Work. Eat lunch. Work. Hope traffic isn’t too bad on the way home. Arrive home later after multitudes of traffic. Eat dinner. Hang out with friends. Come home. Pet dog. Go to bed. Repeat.
This is largely what my first week working as a VISTA with Texas Parks and Wildlife looked like and presumably what many others who work office jobs also experience. As someone who cannot sit at a desk for more than thirty minutes without doing pushups, this transition has been hard and finding time to spend outdoors has been even harder. Halfway through the week, sitting in another brick and mortar building listening to Tim Beatley speak about biophilic cities, I could feel myself getting stressed about every little thing as I had only spent forty-five quality minutes outdoors in the past 72 hours. Ironically, I was proving Tim Beatley’s point and demonstrating just how important biophilic cities are.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of a biophilic city, it was first coined...more
Texas Parks and Wildlife uses many tools to tell the story of our cultural and natural heritage. One of those tools is Passport to Texas Radio hosted by Cecilia Nasti. The radio show covers a number of topics, including why it is important to connect children with nature to be healthier, happier and the next generation of stewards.
There have been several shows now on this topic so we thought we might curate them for your listening and reading enjoyment.
Make a Outdoor Resolution for 2016 reviewed the benefits of being outdoors for children and adults.
There was a follow up to that spot called More Outdoor Resolutions for 2016 that reflected on the calming benefits of nature.
Do Something that Scares you is a fun article with one of the State Park Ambassadors about pushing past our comfort zones to get outside.
The article about...more
Today, children spend between seven and eleven hours a day indoors sedentary with media and only minutes a day playing outdoors.
Hundreds of Texas Children in Nature (TCiN) partner organizations across the state are dedicated to changing this trend by saving children from “nature deficit disorder” through providing opportunities for outdoor exploration and play.
Nature Rocks Texas, a website created by TCiN, lists nature centers, parks, green spaces and nature-based activities for children and adults. The site is curated to be a one-stop guide for families to find things to do together in the outdoors.
“We wanted to create a resource for families where they could connect with nature in their community,” said Jennifer Bristol, coordinator for Texas Children in Nature. “The website is built with today’s busy families in mind so they can easily find the nature-centers, parks and outdoor learning opportunities in their neighborhoods or nearby.”
As Texas continues to...more
A few years ago, I got my first introduction to backpacking in the Rocky Mountain Range of Colorado. The big sweeping views and lush landscape gave me a portrait of nature that I had never seen firsthand before. As a Texan, the Colorado beauty absolutely blew me away. Never before had I been in a land more simple and rudimentary, and so uncompromisingly wild. To this day, that week long trek through the mountains remains the image in my head as to what a wild landscape looks like.
Some people claim that wilderness is defined by our perception, which is shaped by our circumstance and experience. For example, one who has never experienced the Rocky Mountain Range in person but instead has spent most of their life confined to big cities with little exposure to wild nature might consider a stand of woodland trees or a small state park to be “wilderness”. According to this theory, wilderness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Although these different perspectives of nature are valuable, true wilderness is not based on individual perception....more
September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. According to the Center for Disease Control 1 in 5 children are obese which can lead to other serious health issues such as diabetes, heart conditions, and emotional problems like depression. This is a complex epidemic that involves many solutions including diet, exercise and healthy living choices.
But there is good news! Research shows that children who spend time actively playing in nature are less likely to develop childhood obesity. The Texas Children in Nature network is dedicated to creating access to nature for children and families so they can live healthier and happier lives.
One of the ways TCiN provides opportunities to children and families is through the Nature Rocks Texas websites which list all the green spaces, nature centers, parks and activities in: Central Texas, South Texas, North Texas and the Caprock region. TCiN and our partners want families to have options when...more
Sometimes it is not possible to pack up an entire school or even grade level and take them on a camping adventure. Issues like transportation, volunteers, time, tests and a million other factors can be barriers to schools creating opportunities for their students to go camping. So why not host a School Yard Campout!
Camping on the campus is a great way to introduce students and their families to camping and outdoor skills in a safe, community engaging atmosphere. Hosting a school yard campout might be a fun way to reward a class for high achievement, or simply use it as a tool to gain greater family participation with school events. Either way it is a perfect activity to help kids build self-confidence and self-reliance, while learning important outdoor skills.
A recent study Don't Forget the Families, The Missing Piece of America's Effort to Help All Children Succeed, investigates the importance of including parents and caring adults in the learning process...more
May 27, 2015 Jennifer Bristol
“More than 100 years ago, Frederick Law Olmsted conducted a study of how parks help property values. From 1856 to 1873 he tracked the value of property immediately adjacent to Central Park, in order to justify the $13 million spent on its creation. He found that over the 17-year period there was a $209 million increase in the value of the property impacted by the park.” From Planning.org
When Texas finally got serious about wanting to prove that parks weren’t just nice to have around, but really added value to communities, they looked to Texas A&M professor Dr. John Crompton. Dr. Crompton produced the first Texas look at the economic impact of parks and green spaces in 2001. In 2014 the The Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks was revisited and updated so that it could be current as a tool to help the Texas Legislator understand the true value of parks.
December 26, 2013Jennifer Bristol
The fall of 2013 saw two major wins for the improvement of children’s health. The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines on managing children and adolescents’ media time. Their research showed that children and teens are using media more than originally thought and the numbers are staggering. They are now offering guidelines for parents and physicians to build awareness of all the health issues that can come from too much time sitting or being connected to media. The recommendations are;
“The AAP advocates for better and more research about how media affects youth. Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues. A recent study shows that the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with different media, and older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. Kids who have a TV in their bedroom spend more time with media. About 75 percent of 12- to...more
Jaime González- Katy Prairie Conservancy
The following is a guest blog post by Jaime González, conservation education director at the Katy Prairie Conservancy. The Katy Prairie Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust dedicated to preserving an ecologically vital tallgrass prairie and associated wetlands area on Houston’s far west side for the enjoyment and benefit of all.
I’m sitting at my computer staring into a time machine. It is not a metaphorical time machine. It is a literal time machine. The wizards at Google have stitched together dozens of aerial photographs taken of Harris County in 1944 and embedded them into their revolutionary Google Earth program.
What I see is astonishing. I see a city on the verge of massive post-war growth, but only on the verge. Beltway 8, Highway 6, and the Grand Parkway are conspicuously absent. Their ribbons of concrete have yet to stretch out into the countryside or bisect communities. The Galleria appears to be a hay meadow or ranch, and the city’s footprint barely...more
When I was a child my parents subscribed to National Geographic and I always looked forward every month to see what new wonders of the world they would surprise and delight us with in their latest issue. We kept those magazines for years and used them for all sorts of homework and art projects. There was one issue in particular that was my favorite and I still have it; August, 1976. That month featured a beautiful photo of a woman surrounded by monarch butterflies in their secret wintering haven in Mexico.
Growing up in Central Texas, I’ve always had a special admiration for the monarch butterfly. Each April and October they flutter along ancient migration routes that carry them through Texas. When I was at college at Texas State University, I would linger in the library on campus to watch the butterflies float along, catching the updrafts of the building as they journey to and from Mexico. On days when I felt like there was no possible way that I could continue on with working...more
I was inspired by the talk by Angela Hanscom at the Children & Nature Network International Conference and took that inspiration to turn it into action. Angela presented her research behind why kids fidget and have trouble paying attention in class and how active, outdoor play can help them focus.
She so clearly defined the role of motion as being an integral part of our overall wellbeing and identified ways that motion, and building core strength benefit our children's abilities to focus, stay engaged, and participate more fully in the classroom. Her examples, comparing the traditional occupational therapy techniques to their equivalent in nature were inspiring.
I felt that she had concrete concepts and ideas that teachers can take into their classrooms to affect change right away. I returned to Austin, purchased several copies of the book, and distributed to a cadre of teachers that are dedicated to outdoor learning in Austin ISD. We will be doing a book study on Balanced and Barefoot this fall.