Engaging the natural brain

Jessie Lucier | Boulder Weekly

The winter solstice is here, and the season’s chilly weather has already driven most of Colorado’s flora and fauna to take cover inside. We — and our kids — however, don’t need to be deterred from connecting with the natural world because of the cold weather. This year, rather than cozying up to the television on snowy days, try incorporating some eco-activities into your family’s winter routine. Boulder County and the surrounding area offer many kid-friendly, environment-related activities, and there are numerous things you can do right at home to occupy your growing eco-stewards’ curious minds.

Get out into open space

The city of Boulder’s Open Space & Mountain Parks (OSMP) program is an excellent resource for parents looking for ways to keep their kids connected to nature, any time of the year. OSMP runs ongoing, family-oriented nature explorations, including one on deer Dec. 22. Other upcoming events include sessions about bears, bird watching for kids and a winter wonderland photo safari. More information about the sessions and a schedule is available at www.naturehikes.org.

OSMP also offers nature discovery kits available to be checked out daily, free of cost, at the Ranger Cottage at Chautauqua Park. The kits come in backpacks filled with exploration gear, like wildlife identification guides, magnifiers, bug boxes, supplies for taking notes and drawing pictures, and a list of activity ideas for parents. This time of year, kids can explore animal tracks in the snow, look at snow crystals through a magnifying lens, sketch pictures and use the included identification guides to identify winter birds.


What better way to get your little ones excited about being outdoors and up in the mountains than to put them on a pair of skis? Eldora Mountain Resort offers kids ages 4 to 6 an opportunity to get familiar with being on skis and to learn some fundamental skiing skills in their game-based Eldorables ski program.

“The idea is to get kids excited about the sport through games and for them to enjoy the mountain and being outside in the snow,” says Tavid Bingham, Eldora’s marketing coordinator. The ski program runs in five-week blocks throughout the ski season. Young kids can look forward to working with the same instructor, seeing the same kids week after week, and get a valuable introduction into experiencing the outdoors while in motion!

Visit the Butterfly Pavilion

Take a break from the cold and bring the kids to a tropical conservatory bursting with butterflies and a variety of plants and animals. The Butterfly Pavilion, located just south of Boulder, offers patrons a year-round opportunity to see, touch, hear and learn about various animals and insects of the land, air and sea. The Pavilion is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8.50 for adults and $5.50 for children.

Plant an herb garden

The remains of your outdoor garden may be in your compost pile, frozen solid or under a blanket of snow, but that doesn’t mean that nurturing edible plants needs to die down until the weather warms back up. Place a flower bin or a selection of terracotta pots on a sunny windowsill and fill them with a selection of herbs you’ll use for cooking throughout the winter. Put your kids in charge of watering and caring for the plants, and encourage them to help plan and cook meals that incorporate the herbs that they helped grow. A 2010 UC Berkeley study, among similar studies, found that children who grow some of their own food are more likely to eat produce and enjoy better longterm health.

Star gaze

Clear winter night skies offer a valuable and educational opportunity to bundle everyone up to observe stars, the moon and other celestial bodies. For younger kids, it’s best to keep it simple — learn the constellations together in books or online and try to pinpoint them. Bring out a telescope or binoculars or simply use your eyes.

This is also a good opportunity to teach your kids about nocturnal animals, such as owls and bats.

Free maps of the sky can be downloaded each month at skymaps.com.

Fiske Planetarium, located on the CU-Boulder campus, offers more structured opportunities to learn about astronomy.

The Planetarium presents lobby exhibits that are free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and on select weekends. They also put on laser shows, live talks and star shows. Cost of admission varies from $3.50 to $7 for kids and $6 to $7 for adults.

Give your home a green makeover

You’ve been meaning to replace your showerhead with a low-flow alternative and change out the incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. Stop delaying and make it an educational and fun family project. The city of Boulder and the Center for Resource Conservation offer resources for community members to lighten their household footprint. And while you tackle the more dangerous tasks, such as swapping out cleaning products for nontoxic alternatives, older kids can change out light bulbs and take charge of recycling and compost bins.

Green arts and crafts

Take stock of your household waste products before shuttling them over to recycling bins or the trash bin, where their final destination is a landfill. Many of the objects that we commonly throw away can be reused in arts and crafts creations. Some materials to keep around for snowy day projects include cardboard, ribbons and wrapping paper from gift packaging, bottles and cans, egg crates, coat hangers, milk jugs … the opportunities for reuse crafts are abundant!

Check out “Recycled Crafts for Kids” for many great ideas at www.squidoo.com/recycled-crafts-for-kids.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com