For years, experts in child development have known that unstructured outdoor play from the toddler to the teen years boosts intellectual, physical and emotional development in many ways.
Studies have shown that children who are encouraged to play in nature are less obese, are more socially adaptive, and score higher on standardized tests. At its website, the National Wildlife Federation encourages outdoor activities and environmental education for children as part of a mind-body-spirit parenting approach.
"The more kids can play outside, the more they grow up to care for the Earth as adults," said Holly Roger, program coordinator for Wild Whatcom Walks, which offers education classes and outings for children and families.
"It's all about developing that relationship," Roger said. "The sensory experiences of being outside and playing in nature ... it builds so much resilience later."
Roger said she often brings a book to read on a hike with her children or students, then sits and lets them play.
"I always encourage my kids to get wet and dirty," she said.
Whatcom County residents enjoy dozens of stunning city, county and state parks, and a series of interurban greenways connect the city of Bellingham with many parks. Only the state parks require admission, and all can be reached via a short drive, walk, bus or bicycle ride. That means families can enjoy an urban adventure, getting as wet and dirty as they'd like, knowing they can return to "civilization" quickly.
Michael McFarlane, director of the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation, Department, notes the diversity and accessibility of open spaces in Whatcom County.
"We have a lot of great areas to explore. It's easy to get out and enjoy these parks," McFarlane said, citing the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve near Sudden Valley and Tennant Lake near Ferndale among his favorites.
"(Stimpson) has a fairly long trail system through the old-growth forest," he said.
At Tennant Lake, visitors can enjoy a range of experiences, from a boardwalk trail through marshland, a 50-foot observation tower, and a fragrance garden featuring aromatic plants and herbs.
"It's a great place to see wildlife," McFarlane said. "You don't have to go very far to see a lot of neat things. There's always something going on in the wetlands."
In this issue of Bellingham Families, we've included detailed information for exploring five local parks and we have provided brief information for another five outings. You'll also find tips about what to bring with you on your urban adventure, and discover what kinds of plants and animals to look for.
Robert Mittendorf is a Herald writer, copy editor and page designer. Suggest your ideas for local family-friendly events, hikes or day trips at 360-756-2805 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.