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"Opting out" with the kids

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The holiday season is in full swing, and while that’s mostly a wonderful thing, our appetites for overconsumption can lead us astray at times. Following Thanksgiving and our tendencies to overindulge, we are challenged with the intense consumerism of Black Friday, which has spawned an increasingly popular initiative launched by outdoor retailer, REI to encourage people to “Opt Outside” and gather the riches of the great outdoors instead.

As the December holidays arrive, with additional opportunities to indulge in rich foods and to spend more hours in sedentary pastimes, it’s a great time to opt outside instead. Especially for children, who sometimes get lost in the shuffle of holiday commitments and chaos, it’s important to find time to get out for a vigorous walk or hike, take in fresh air and interface with the endless wonders of the natural world.

Fortunately, there are some wonderful resources available for taking full advantage of your outdoor adventures with youngsters. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) provides links to educational nature activities for children that can be printed and toted along as you explore the natural world together, playing Outdoor Bingo, recording observations in a nature journal and learning about wildlife, invasive species, trees, plants, rocks, minerals and more. (Visit www.dec.ny.gov/education/72444.html or Kids GO (Get Outside) at www.dec.ny.gov/education/69.html).

In addition, NYDEC publishes Conservationist for Kids, a nature and environment magazine that is inserted into its popular Conservationist magazine in February, April and October. (Visit www.dec.ny.gov/education/40248.html).

Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) offers downloadable family activity guides suitable for children ages three to 15 years. Help the kids learn which nature neighbors live in their backyard, or play detective during that next woods walk to discover how plants complete their life cycles. (Visit www.plt.org/activities-for-families/ or shop.plt.org/family-activities/).

Additional resources for educators are available through DCNR’s Project Learning Tree. (Visit www.dcnr.pa.gov/Education/ProjectLearningTree/Pages/default.aspx).

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