Enjoying the outdoors with children is one of the most enjoyable things to do as a naturalist. I love to watch their eyes open wide when they get their first glimpses of fascinating plants and animals they thought existed only within the confines of a PBS documentary. Though we don’t have the lions, tigers or elephants, there’s an engaging world to be explored in Racine County.
To spend a day outside with children it’s best to scale down our perspective, both in terms of what we might see, where we should go and how far we should walk. Let the children set the pace; encourage them to explore and take an interest in what they find. Help them look beneath the leaves, the rocks and the logs to uncover hidden treasures and teach them the importance of putting the rocks and logs back just the way you found them so as not to destroy the habitat for the animals that live beneath them. Take along a notebook or digital camera to document what you find, then go home and try to identify them based on your sketch or photograph.
The best places to find interesting things usually include water in the form of a creek, river, pond or lake where frogs, tadpoles, snails, damselflies, water striders and herons can be found. Once the children begin to discover things, you’ll wonder if they’re gifted with bionic vision that disappears when they turn into teenagers!
Eastern Racine County offers a number of places that present great opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with children, but I’ll narrow it down to a couple. Each of these has a water feature that is reasonably safe without sharp drop-offs and where it’s easy to keep an eye on them.
In the Caledonia area, tops on the list would be . Here you’ll find a beautiful upland forest full of mature trees. Root River forms one of the boundaries to the park and creates a river bottom forest with backwaters full of frogs, herons and wood ducks. Within the park are a couple of small ponds including one with a great wooden boardwalk and viewing platform. Though there is ample room to get a decent walk within the park, there will be plenty of things for a child to explore within a couple hundred yards. The Nature Center provides restrooms and exhibits the kids will love.
Next on the list would be on Hwy. 38. A pond near the entrance offers fishing opportunities for kids should you want to combine a fishing and exploring trip, while deeper in the park there are a couple of great loops to walk that take you through a beautiful prairie area, some brushy habitat and gets you near Root River. There’s room for a quiet picnic too should you want to make a day of it. Once again, there’s ample opportunity for a good walk or just explore with the kids around the pond and you’ll walk less than a couple hundred yards from the parking area.
Take a child for a walk in the outdoors soon. Hopefully once you see their excitement, you’ll enjoy it as much as they will! And when you do, send us your photos of your "park adventures" with your kids to Denise.firstname.lastname@example.org