COLUMN: Treasured family time outdoors

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     Spring is finally here and summer is right around the corner! Now is the perfect time to get your family into the out-of-doors.

     Outdoor activities abound and are limited only by your imagination and time. Maybe your idea of outdoor activities with your family is to spruce up the yard or simply have a cookout on your grill. Just step outside; there are many inexpensive, fun, and educational activities you can do together as a family.

     Involve the whole family in preparing your garden site, flower beds, or planting new trees and shrubs in your yard. Kids can dig holes, plant seeds, rake and hoe, pull weeds, and water plants. Kids love to get dirty and feel important when they can help with projects around the home. Give your child a small area of the garden and let them pick out the flowers or vegetables they will plant and grow.

     Harvest the bounties of nature from your garden or a local you-pick-it farm. Asparagus, rhubarb, lettuce, spinach, radishes, sweet peas, and strawberries are all spring harvests. You’ll be amazed by the lessons you’ll learn from harvesting and preparing your own food.

     One fun springtime activity that is almost a lost art for many families is the act of flying a kite. All you need is a good kite, an open field with no power lines or trees to get tangled in, and a little wind. I remember the exhilaration and fun of flying kites as a child in an empty lot across from my house. This activity can provide hours of fun and exercise and can be combined with a picnic at a local park.

     Just going for a hike is another way to spend good quality family time. Hike around your neighborhood or head to a local nature preserve or park. Hiking and biking trails are wonderful places to explore and you’ll be amazed by the treasures your family can discover.

     If you hunt morel mushrooms – take your kids! Kids are great morel hunters. They have a distinct advantage of being closer to the ground and the morels. Your kids will love walking through the woods and investigating as they hunt for supper.

     Don’t forget to visit a local lake, river, or farm pond for some fishing fun. Kids love to fish, especially if the fish are biting. Make your fishing trip more meaningful by having your kids collect night crawlers on a wet and warm night and use them as bait. Don’t forget to teach your kids how to clean the catch and then have a delicious fish fry so you can enjoy your hard-earned meal. Did I mention morel mushrooms go great with a fish fry? Try your luck along the Maquoketa or Wapsipinicon Rivers, Central Parks West Pond, or the ponds at the Hale Wildlife Area.

     Go geocaching – this tech savvy active sport is capturing the interest of many families. Use your smartphone or any other GPS-enabled device to join this outdoor treasure hunting game. Your family will navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and attempt to discover the hidden geocache container. Geocaches are hidden in almost every community and park just waiting for you to discover.

     Go camping at a park or in your own backyard. Set up a tent and let the kids experience a night under the stars. Cook s’mores over an outdoor fire.

     Feed the birds! Although many people feed the birds during the winter, many of our summer resident birds will continue to visit your feeder all summer long providing hours of education and entertainment for your family. Make or purchase a hummingbird or northern oriole feeder to add to your bird feeding station. Have your kids help mix up the sugar water and fill the feeder. Enjoy and keep track of the birds who visit your feeders this summer.

     Purchase or make a bird bath. Kids can have fun building or decorating your bird bath with a little paint and some neat stencils and designs. Fill your creation and watch and identify the birds that visit your bird bath.

     Don’t forget to spend plenty of time just playing outside. Play Frisbee or Frisbee golf. Bubbles and water provide hours of fun. Set up a sprinkler and let the kids and dogs have some fun. Let your kids wear old clothes and sandals and jump in puddles and make mud pies after a big rain. Watch for a rainbow. Play tag with wet sponges. Go swimming at your local pool.

     Whatever you fancy, do it together and get your family into the outdoors this spring! For a list of free family programs sponsored by the Jones County Conservation Board visit for statewide programs and events visit



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