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Vacations that connect kids with nature

Curtis Anderson

A young guest explores the woods at Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Ore.

Families are so busy juggling science projects, carpools and after-school activities that we often don’t take enough time to connect with nature, or with one another, in our daily lives. Nature-focused vacations enable parents and children to unplug from technology and everyday stresses while using all of our senses to create lifelong memories.

Richard Louv, recipient of the Audubon medal and author of the bestselling book “Last Child in the Woods,” coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder, which he defines as, “a societal term that refers to the human cost of alienation from nature. It’s the price to our mental and physical health, our ability to learn, our productivity and, particularly for children, our sense of wonder.”

To reignite that sense of wonder, here are some ways to connect with nature with a family vacation:

Farm stay
With the help of USDA grants, Scottie Jones, owner of the Leaping Lamb Farm in Oregon, launched FarmStayUS.com in 2011 to connect guests with farmers and ranchers. The directory lists working farms and ranches where families can experience firsthand where our food comes from and what it takes to run a farm.

Scottie Jones

Collecting fresh eggs at Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Ore.

“When families first get here, they all have these portable devices. But that’s it. No one turns them back on,” Jones says. Instead, kids and adults brush donkeys, bottle-feed lambs, play in the hay loft, and throw rocks into the creek. A favorite activity is collecting fresh eggs from her chickens. “It’s like Easter every day, even for the parents,” she says.

Dude ranch
A dude ranch vacation gives families a chance to experience wilderness from horseback. DudeRanch.org matches vacationers with ranches. The site says: “Your appreciation of nature, family and friends will be renewed. You’ll find that good riding, good food and good friends will leave you peaceful and content. You’ll discover the luxuries of silence, the wind on your face and the stars shining brightly.”

Jan D Armor / Courtesy Covered Wagon Ranch, Mont.

Out for a stroll.

Activities vary from those you might expect like canoeing, archery and river rafting to more surprising options like yoga, zip-lining and spa treatments. One activity that remains constant is horseback riding in the great outdoors.

Camping and state/national parks
Debi Huang, creator of GoExploreNature.com, says, “Camping is certainly an inexpensive way for people to travel and it gives you an automatic way to explore nature.” For beginner campers, she suggests trying an overnight backyard campout before embarking on a more extensive adventure away from home. Another option for novice campers is to co-vacation with another family that has more outdoor experience.

From roughing it in a tent to more luxurious cabin rentals, state and national parks offer a variety of camping options as well as day passes for families who’d rather stay in a standard hotel overnight.

Louv says, “I hear from a lot of parents that they feel like they’re torturing their kids when they take them camping or to national parks because children are so plugged in (to technology). But when the kids come back from college, it’s those times in nature that they remember. It’s highly unlikely that college kids would sit around the kitchen table reminiscing about that time they scored really well on Nintendo.”

Simple nature fixes
Even if you don’t plan your entire trip around nature, you can still infuse some outdoor play into a typical vacation. Make time for a beach day or visit a botanic garden, zoo, aquarium or local park.  

Taking time out from often over-stimulating museums, shops, sites and amusement park attractions will help everyone relax and reconnect. And isn’t that what a vacation is supposed to be all about?

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor of TravelMamas.com, a site for anyone who wants to travel with children … and stay sane!

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