Blog Notes

M.Falls Swim.jpg

Having grown up in Texas where summer stays nine months out of the year, I’ve gradually gotten used to the idea that if I want to go outside, it is most likely going to be a hot and sweaty experience. However, as the temperatures slowly rise into the triple digits by the afternoon of a summer day, it can be easy to opt into staying inside, waiting for a cooler time to check out that park you’ve wanted to visit. This doesn’t have to be the case. With 20+ years of opting to go outside even in the dead of summer, I’m sharing my hot tips to stay cool outside during the hottest time of the year!

1) Swimming. This is an obvious one but you can create an even deeper connection with nature by skipping the local pool and finding a lake, swimming hole, or other natural body of water to swim in. One of my favorite things to do is to make a day out of it. Pack a picnic and hike down to your favorite swimming spot with your family and/or friends. The cool water will keep you comfortable for the entire day while you can still enjoy much of what nature has to offer.

2) Night...

Family Camping Nature Rocks.jpg

At Texas Children in Nature we emphasize the benefits of a daily connection with nature for kids and families. But there is something extra special about a family campout during the summer in Texas. For some, that might sound like a hot, buggy proposition. Being prepared can mitigate the heat and the pests so you can focus on the fun. Knowing where to go to maximize your family fun time is also important. We’ve compiled a list of 15 great places to camp with the family during the summer.

East Texas:

Tyler State Park: At Tyler SP you can boat, fish, swim, camp, picnic, have a reunion, or take a nature walk. Set in the towering pines of east Texas, this park offers 13 miles of hiking and biking trails, plus a large lake for water activities. There are limited use cabins, screen shelters, RV and tent sites for camping.


kids in garden.jpg

June is Great Outdoors Month. Enrich your relationship with nature and decide to go 30 Days Wild this month with your entire family. Follow us on Facebook for ideas of things to do and places to explore.

Last month, I challenged myself to participate in the 30 Days Wild Challenge, a challenge where every day I had to perform a Random Act of Wildness. As someone who regularly goes outside no matter the weather, I thought this challenge would be relatively easy. However, through the course of the month, I found myself discovering and understanding my relationship with nature in a way that I hadn’t considered.

The first week was considerably harder than I had imagined. That first day I had so many ideas about different activities I would participate in, from volunteering to tree climbing to hiking. By the third day, however, I had sprained my foot and was forced to stay off it for over a week, putting a damper on my outdoor plans. Instead of hiking with friends I was suddenly resigned to spending my time sitting in various parks, no physical...


Native species vs. invasive species is an important topic among environmentalists, ecologists, wildlife biologists, in schools, etc. As a matter of fact, invasive species was the current event topic for the 2016 Envirothon competition. What are native species and invasive species? Why does it matter which ones grow in our local areas? What can we do to help our local environment?

Native species plants play an important role in our ecosystems. Naturally occurring in a region in which they evolved, native species plants support pollinators and local wildlife including insects such as bees, butterflies, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Native species plants are also important in our economies, and they affect our well-being as humans. Native plants have adapted over time to various environmental and social influences.

An invasive plant species is a plant or fungus that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species), and which has a tendency to spread and cause damage to the environment, human economy or human health. According to The Nature Conservancy,...


Wake up. Eat breakfast. Watch the news. Watch the traffic report. Become part of the traffic report. Work. Eat lunch. Work. Hope traffic isn’t too bad on the way home. Arrive home later after multitudes of traffic. Eat dinner. Hang out with friends. Come home. Pet dog. Go to bed. Repeat.

This is largely what my first week working as a VISTA with Texas Parks and Wildlife looked like and presumably what many others who work office jobs also experience. As someone who cannot sit at a desk for more than thirty minutes without doing pushups, this transition has been hard and finding time to spend outdoors has been even harder. Halfway through the week, sitting in another brick and mortar building listening to Tim Beatley speak about biophilic cities, I could feel myself getting stressed about every little thing as I had only spent forty-five quality minutes outdoors in the past 72 hours. Ironically, I was proving Tim Beatley’s point and demonstrating just how important biophilic cities are.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a biophilic city, it was first coined...


The Texas Legislator only meets once every two years from January to May. They are in session right now making decisions on a great many things that will impact the daily lives of children and nature. While Texas Children in Nature does not specifically endorse any one specific bill or ideology, we do want to provide our network with information.

Our friends over at the YMCA and Texas Coalition for Conservation are tracking a number of bills that relate to children’s health, access to nature and wildlife. We encourage you to have a look at the bills so you can make informed choices.

Texas Children in Nature envisions a future were all children in Texas have safe, equitable access to nature to be healthier, happier and smarter. Currently we have 375 partner organizations working on bringing this future to life.

While policies and laws are an important piece of ensuring a nature-rich future for our youth, the best method for building a positive relationship between children and nature is to get...

3TCiN Blog Post Picture.jpg

For those who don’t know me, and I imagine that’s the majority who are reading this, I am Claire Blakely and I’m the new Texas Children in Nature VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) at Texas Parks and Wildlife.

I’m one of those rare unicorns you hear about but never see who was born and raised in Austin. Due to the vast outdoor opportunities here in ATX and my mother’s love of nature, I grew up outside camping, hiking, and biking starting around the age of three.

Much like a stubborn child whose mother forced them into the Texas heat, I also hated every minute of it until I was about fourteen. Then due to lack of free time and immense stress, I found myself connecting to nature in a way I never had before. It was my saving grace, a time where stress and anxiety were no longer present. This connection to nature has only intensified as I’ve gotten older, finding myself on top of some of the tallest mountains in Texas and enjoying my time alone camping in various state and national...


Calling all birders and nature enthusiasts young and old! It's time to start thinking about forming your youth, mixed age, or adult teams for the 2017 Birding Classic! Join more than 100 teams competing all over the state and enjoy one of the best nature experiences in Texas: the spring bird migration.

Tournament Dates: April 15 through May 15 (your team can choose their own dates).

Birding is a great way to introduce kids to observing wildlife and make a connection with nature. If you really want to get competitive, think about hosting a team event and challenge a rival school or team within your own school to compete as well.

Novice birders, expert listers, and everyone in between are welcome! There are many categories to choose from based on your birding ability and region of the state. From half day or full day to full week tournaments, there's something for everyone. Find all tournament details online now at



The TCiN Outdoor Activity of the Month is Biking:

Biking is a great way to be active in the outdoors for the entire family. Hitting the trails is easier than ever for all skill levels with so many all-weather-trails in most urban areas. All-weather-trails have a more durable surface than a mountain bike trail or a BMX track. No matter what type of trail your prefer, each can take you on a journey in nature.

Before you jump on your bike and ride off into the sunset, take the time for a few safety checks. First, know your limits and plan a route that is suited to you and your biking companions. Second, make sure your bike is in good working order and your tires are properly inflated. Third, take the time to make sure your helmet is adjusted properly. Fourth, review the rules of the park and make sure you yield to horses and foot traffic.

Here are some great biking trails for all levels. See how many you and your family can explore in the month of Feb. You can find more biking trails at...

Families in Nature.jpg

As part of your New Years Resolution to be healthier in 2017, make sure you include plenty of time in nature. Research shows that spending time in nature is good not just for physical health, but mental health as well. So rather then spending a fortune on a gym membership, and hours walking on a noisy treadmill, why not escape into nature for a rejuvenating power walk?

Think nature is some far-away-place that you need lots of time, money and gear to get to? Not so. There are plenty of parks, nature centers and nature-based activities right in your own community. Texas Children in Nature has made it easy to find nature near you with their website You could even make a challenge for you and your family to visit a new park every day or at least every week.

The National Park Foundation also wants to help you explore the natural wonders of America. Their website lists...

Gifts for holiday.jpg

I fondly remember when my grandfather gave me my first Swiss Army knife for Christmas. That afternoon we collected a few sticks and he shared the whittling techniques that his father had imparted to him. There wasn’t s stick in the yard that was safe as I spent hours trying to craft the perfect spear.

The holidays are about spending time with friends and family, food and festivities, and giving thanks. This year when considering gifts for those loved ones on your list, give the gift of time and togetherness while enjoying the outdoor pursuits.

There are gifts large and small that can foster togetherness in the outdoors. Here are a few ideas to get you started on the journey towards a fun year of exploration and adventure.


Be safe this year with a quality bike helmet. The Bell Adrenaline or Schwinn Thrasher bike helmets are high quality and multi-purpose for adults and kids.


The trifecta gift for the birder in your life could be the binocular, book, birdfeeder combo. Alpen make a nice...

Family 350.jpg

Texas Children in Nature has a lot to be thankful for this year. As a network we have grown to over 365 partners who reached just over 3.1 million youth and 7 million adults with their outdoor opportunities.

Each one of our partners works tirelessly to provide quality nature-based experiences in their community. We try our best to have as many of those programs, events and activities listed on so families only have to go to one place to find things to do in their area.

We are thankful to our steering committee of 20 individuals from around the state. Each one brings a unique perspective, expert advice, and boundless energy to the network. In 2016 they focused that energy to update the TCiN strategic plan to set a positive course for the movement for the next five years.

We are thankful for the support of Texas Parks and Wildlife and the T...

Filtering Water-2.jpg

It’s not every day that normal people like me get to spend time in a state park, although boy do I wish I could. The state of Texas has a total of 95 state parks and each one of them is an individual treasure. This summer I had the incredible opportunity to join a group called the Texas State Park Ambassadors, a stewardship group made up of 18-29 year olds that are passionate about conservation and connecting people to parks.

“At the program’s core, we seek to create a new generation of state park stewards in Texas,” says Tyler Priest, the coordinator of the Ambassador program. Tyler trains three new batches of Ambassadors every year from all around the state and spends a week out in a different state park for each training.

The Ambassadors are a very special group of people. “I love the way our groups experience nature. Whether on a night hike, watching a bat emergence, or star gazing, we often seem to end up in a place of silent fascination as we’re immersed in beauty. Headlamps turn off,...

back to school.jpg

It’s that time of year again. Summer is ending and it’s time for millions of kids across Texas to head back to school. While parents are busy collecting school supplies, and squeezing in last minute summer adventures, teachers are working hard on establishing lesson plans for the year.

There are lots of resources out there for teachers to help them bring nature into the classroom. Texas Children in Nature has tried to collect many of the resources that are focused on educating youth about the animals, aquatic life, ecosystems and plants of Texas. Many of the resources are listed below, but more can be found on the Nature Rocks Texas website located in your region. Nature Rocks Texas websites can be found in- Austin, Caprock, Coastal Bend, North Texas, Pineywoods, and San Antonio. Coming soon to the Rio Grande Valley!

Educators might also be interested in starting a schoolyard habitat or natural play area on their campus this year. There are some good resources for that as well and are listed after the curriculum...

Looking at the pond.jpg

The Trust for Public Lands wants you to know that parks can improve your health. They list 8 ways that parks and their features can improve you and your child’s health and well being. So rather then spending time spinning away on a treadmill, take your exercise outdoors and discover amazing parks near you.

1) Parks get you moving- 95% of US adults, 92% of adolescents, and 58% of children aren’t getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity. That’s huge! Parks can help decrease that depressing statistic.

2) Not only that, but it’s the type of exercise our bodies need most- Nothing builds fitness as well as exercise that...


A few years ago, I got my first introduction to backpacking in the Rocky Mountain Range of Colorado. The big sweeping views and lush landscape gave me a portrait of nature that I had never seen firsthand before. As a Texan, the Colorado beauty absolutely blew me away. Never before had I been in a land more simple and rudimentary, and so uncompromisingly wild. To this day, that week long trek through the mountains remains the image in my head as to what a wild landscape looks like.

Some people claim that wilderness is defined by our perception, which is shaped by our circumstance and experience. For example, one who has never experienced the Rocky Mountain Range in person but instead has spent most of their life confined to big cities with little exposure to wild nature might consider a stand of woodland trees or a small state park to be “wilderness”. According to this theory, wilderness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Although these different perspectives of nature are valuable, true wilderness is not based on individual perception....

Anne Muller.jpg

I was inspired by the talk by Angela Hanscom at the Children & Nature Network International Conference and took that inspiration to turn it into action. Angela presented her research behind why kids fidget and have trouble paying attention in class and how active, outdoor play can help them focus.

She so clearly defined the role of motion as being an integral part of our overall wellbeing and identified ways that motion, and building core strength benefit our children's abilities to focus, stay engaged, and participate more fully in the classroom. Her examples, comparing the traditional occupational therapy techniques to their equivalent in nature were inspiring.

I felt that she had concrete concepts and ideas that teachers can take into their classrooms to affect change right away. I returned to Austin, purchased several copies of the book, and distributed to a cadre of teachers that are dedicated to outdoor learning in Austin ISD. We will be doing a book study on Balanced and Barefoot this fall.


boy 400.jpg

Leaders from the health, education and conservation community gathered this week at the Boggy Slough Conservation Area to discuss the formation of a Pineywoods Children in Nature Collaborative. Facilitated by Jennifer Bristol, State Coordinator for the Texas Children in Nature Network, the meeting sought to explore the formation of a collaborative effort centered on getting children and families outside and creating community-level awareness of the values of nature-based education and exposure.

"A growing body of national research provides a strong link between contact with nature and improved mental, physical and emotional health in children and adults," said Bristol. "Despite this knowledge, we are in the midst of a generation of children and young adults that are increasingly disconnected from nature. Our effort is aimed at creating regional grassroots movements that will stop this trend and lead to healthier and happier children, families and communities.”

The first order of business for the Pineywoods Children...


"Children today spend an average of 7.5 minutes outside for every 7 hours they spend online."

Just let that sink in.

This statement by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, silenced the packed room at the opening ceremony of the Children & Nature International Conference.

I signed up to attend and traveled to St. Paul for one specific reason, and suddenly, my agenda was blown.

At times like these I have to pull back—way back—to see the big picture. And sometimes it eludes me.

The problem with getting children outdoors is that it’s impossible without getting adults outdoors, too.

While a child’s innate curiosity, boundless energy and fearless innocence will naturally lead them outdoors to play and explore, adults seem determined to quash this. Why?

Every day we hear parents and teachers reiterate the same message: Outside is scary and full of strange creatures. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! Only it’s not some brave new world of unknown planets and aliens awaiting beyond our air...

TNC- feature.png

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is for your family to go on as many nature adventures as possible during the Texas Nature Challenge.

Take your family on a journey this spring and summer to some of the coolest outdoor sites in Texas. Each site participating in TNC offers challenges. Families or teams visit the sites, participate in the challenge and record what they saw, did or made.

Challenges can be as simple as discovering a secret location at a park and recording it with a photo, to becoming a junior ranger at a State Park. Teams will participate in fishing events, learn how to geocache, go on a fossil hunt, learn how to make paper, and take a walk in the wild.

This year, TNC has added digital badges that teams can earn. Each region has specific badges. If a team is really feeling adventurous, they can now participate in challenges outside of their home region.

Texas A&M Forest Service, in partnership with others, came up with TNC in an effort to help...

family RV 350.jpg

Texas Parks and Wildlife uses many tools to tell the story of our cultural and natural heritage. One of those tools is Passport to Texas Radio hosted by Cecilia Nasti. The radio show covers a number of topics, including why it is important to connect children with nature to be healthier, happier and the next generation of stewards.

There have been several shows now on this topic so we thought we might curate them for your listening and reading enjoyment.

Make a Outdoor Resolution for 2016 reviewed the benefits of being outdoors for children and adults.

There was a follow up to that spot called More Outdoor Resolutions for 2016 that reflected on the calming benefits of nature.

Do Something that Scares you is a fun article with one of the State Park Ambassadors about pushing past our comfort zones to get outside.

The article about...

TCiN horse 350.jpg

Today, children spend between seven and eleven hours a day indoors sedentary with media and only minutes a day playing outdoors.

Hundreds of Texas Children in Nature (TCiN) partner organizations across the state are dedicated to changing this trend by saving children from “nature deficit disorder” through providing opportunities for outdoor exploration and play.

Nature Rocks Texas, a website created by TCiN, lists nature centers, parks, green spaces and nature-based activities for children and adults. The site is curated to be a one-stop guide for families to find things to do together in the outdoors.

“We wanted to create a resource for families where they could connect with nature in their community,” said Jennifer Bristol, coordinator for Texas Children in Nature. “The website is built with today’s busy families in mind so they can easily find the nature-centers, parks and outdoor learning opportunities in their neighborhoods or nearby.”

As Texas continues to...

OAM Biking.jpg

Let's Take a Bike Ride

Biking is a great way to get out and enjoy nature as a family and Texas has miles of easy to advanced trails to explore. Whether peddling down an urban bike path or exploring a single track on a mountain bike, biking offers a different perspective of nature. We would like to highlight some of the best family friendly places to go for a bike ride in your community.


The Southern Walnut Creek Trail is Austin's first Urban Trail. The trail is open for public use and begins at Govalle Park in East Austin and ends in the vicinity of Johnny Morris Road and Daffen Lane. The trail is approximately 7.3 miles in length and consists of a 10' wide concrete trail with 2' shoulders. The trail meanders along the Walnut Creek and offers nice birding and a view of the city not otherwise seen by many.


Caprock Canyon State Park and Trailway has 16 miles of mountain bike trails that range from easy to...


INTRODUCING FAMILIES AND YOUTH TO THE OUTDOORS - I'm in Iowa this morning listening to a local television report about the drugs families use for attention deficit disorders, etc. and how most have many unintended consequences. No kidding! I'm certainly glad that my dad, a physician of 30 years in Denver, and mom figured out that us 10 kids (most with attention issues, I'm sure) did not need any drugs -- we simply needed to be OUTDOORS -- hunting, fishing, rock hounding, hiking, wildlife watching, etc. When we were not outdoors, my dad would often take us down to the Museum of Natural History, to a rock show or to watch a movie on wildlife (e.g Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom...)

Back to this morning. My dad passed at 12:45 am -- and I was there with him -- a very peaceful moment for me...after my wife and I made the trek yesterday from TX. I feel very blessed to have made it up to be with him and was praying and actually looking at a photo of him as he...

Katy Prairie.jpg

The following is a guest blog post by Jaime González, conservation education director at the Katy Prairie Conservancy. The Katy Prairie Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust dedicated to preserving an ecologically vital tallgrass prairie and associated wetlands area on Houston’s far west side for the enjoyment and benefit of all.

I’m sitting at my computer staring into a time machine. It is not a metaphorical time machine. It is a literal time machine. The wizards at Google have stitched together dozens of aerial photographs taken of Harris County in 1944 and embedded them into their revolutionary Google Earth program.

What I see is astonishing. I see a city on the verge of massive post-war growth, but only on the verge. Beltway 8, Highway 6, and the Grand Parkway are conspicuously absent. Their ribbons of concrete have yet to stretch out into the countryside or bisect communities. The Galleria appears to be a hay meadow or...

girls in field.jpg

As we close the year for 2015 and look forward to 2016, it is important to reflect on the positive impact achieved by Texas Children in Nature, the regional collaboratives and our partners. There is no way to capture all the many great achievements, but hopefully this overview will give an idea of why Texas is considered a leader in the Children & Nature movement.

The six Texas Children in Nature collaboratives in Austin, Caprock, Coastal Bend, Houston, North Texas and San Antonio work diligently to raise awareness and collaborate on projects that help connect children and families with nature in their communities. Each region is comprised of volunteers who come together to share ideas, tackle issues and be inspired by one another. It is that very essence that TCiN and our national partner wanted to capture for the theme, Inspiration to Action, for the first international Children and Nature Conference and Tech in Nature Summit. (The next conference is in St. Paul, MN in May 2016)

The Conference was a...


Sometimes it is not possible to pack up an entire school or even grade level and take them on a camping adventure. Issues like transportation, volunteers, time, tests and a million other factors can be barriers to schools creating opportunities for their students to go camping. So why not host a School Yard Campout!

Camping on the campus is a great way to introduce students and their families to camping and outdoor skills in a safe, community engaging atmosphere. Hosting a school yard campout might be a fun way to reward a class for high achievement, or simply use it as a tool to gain greater family participation with school events. Either way it is a perfect activity to help kids build self-confidence and self-reliance, while learning important outdoor skills.

A recent study Don't Forget the Families, The Missing Piece of America's Effort to Help All Children Succeed, investigates the importance of including parents and caring adults in the learning...

Wildlife Detectives.jpg

Every afternoon around 4, Sarah Rice and her toddler Finley have “outdoor happy hour.” They might noodle around a bit in the backyard, playing in the kiddie pool or collecting pecans. Or they might hang out in the front yard, chatting with passers­by and taking note of any planes that pass overhead.

It’s an important part of the day for both of them. Rice enjoys sharing her love of nature, which was sparked by spending much of her childhood in Bulverde playing outdoors, with her son.

“A connection to nature is key to my sense of well­being,” she said. “So I think it makes a huge difference for me and my son in terms of our level of sanity. We need that time outdoors.”

Making outdoor time a priority is one way that parents can offset the nature deficit, a term coined by author Richard Louv in his 2005 best­ seller “Last Child in the Woods.” The phrase describes the disconnect between children growing up in the high­tech age and the natural world. He cited studies indicating that the lack of time spent engaging with nature has helped feed the rise in obesity,...

family in woods.jpg

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. According to the Center for Disease Control 1 in 5 children are obese which can lead to other serious health issues such as diabetes, heart conditions, and emotional problems like depression. This is a complex epidemic that involves many solutions including diet, exercise and healthy living choices.

But there is good news! Research shows that children who spend time actively playing in nature are less likely to develop childhood obesity. The Texas Children in Nature network is dedicated to creating access to nature for children and families so they can live healthier and happier lives.

One of the ways TCiN provides opportunities to children and families is through the Nature Rocks Texas websites which list all the green spaces, nature centers, parks and activities in: Central Texas, South Texas, North Texas and the Caprock region. TCiN and...

Turkey and family small.jpg

Announcing our Fall 2015 Videoconferencing schedule & Youth Distance Learning is available as On-demand Webinars and via Videoconferencing. Youth On-demand Webinars are completely FREE, available 24/7, designed for grades 1-6, Science TEKS aligned, and only require a quick registration before viewing. Find out more about On-demand Webinars HERE on our website. Currently you can find our five most popular programs online:

Youth Videoconferencing style programs are offered through Connect2Texas. Each program is 45 minutes long, designed for grades 1-6, Science TEKS aligned, and FREE to join. Click the links below, or...

Outdoor lessons.jpg

Teachers have the ominous task of educating youth about subjects like science, history, or math and somehow make each lesson come to life so the student connects with the information. Research shows that when children learn and play outdoors they preform better in school, are healthier, more creative and are better problem solvers.

There are lots of lesson plan options out there that can help teachers bridge that gap between the content they are responsible for teaching and making it interesting. We have complied a list of resources for teachers to liven up their science, history, art, math or just about any subject you can think of. We wish you and your students all the best this year!

  • Texas has amazing biodiversity and finally has lesson plans that focus on the Aquatic Life and Habitats in the state.
  • View a sampling of highlighted courses, programs and resources offered by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service...
Wildlife Detectives.jpg

A few years ago I had a friend tell me that the day care her child went to had removed all the trees from the play area. When she asked the administrators why they had removed the trees, they explained to her that they were a hazard because the kids kept playing with the sticks. My friend inquired if anyone was injured from the sticks and the administrator said they didn’t think so, but it could happen.

The next week she returned and discovered that the kids had not gone outside all week. When she asked the childcare provider why not, they responded that it was too hot since all the shade was removed.

Thank goodness children in Texas can expect to see trees again! The new guidelines set forth for childcare centers by the Texas Workforce Commission offer incentives for centers to include “outdoor learning environments.”

With help from National Wildlife Federation, the new...

Diveristy in Outdoor careers.jpg

The population of Texas is as diverse as the natural resources and beauty of the state. The Texas conservation community does a great job with connecting youth and families from all walks of life with nature in their programing and by creating access to nature. However we do a less effective job with empowering people of diversity and youth to seek careers in the outdoor industry.

At the Children in Nature Conference-2015, a group of concerned partners came together to address the issues surrounding this dilemma. Texas Children in Nature and Audubon Texas organized the sessions to examine what the issues are and focus on taking real action to change perceptions and attitudes. The desired outcome was to create a tool kit that all Texas Children in Nature partners can use to raise awareness, and communicate with youth and families about the benefits of careers in the conservation community.

You can take meaningful action by taking a Pledge to Make a Difference. The Pledge is simple- just agree to speak honestly and...

Kris and Brent 250.jpg

This April I attended the C&NN Conference- 2015 in Bastrop, TX. It was an incredible opportunity and I learned valuable information that was in fact, almost overwhelming there was so much to absorb and experience over three short days.

However, as I look back on it and think about the conference the thing that struck me the most was how this one issue has resonated with so many people from all over the world. I’ve attended many national/international conferences in the past. Never, have I seen so many people from such diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise attending one conference. It was inspirational to say the least. It reminded me of my favorite quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The greatest opportunity for me was actually getting the chance to talk and listen to all of these people during sessions and breaks. Learning about their passions and why they were attending the...

kids in garden.jpg

After a year and a half of outreach work in Houston neighborhoods in collaboration with other state park interpreters, I attended the Children in Nature Conference looking for ideas. Even in Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, nature is not some faraway place. It’s all around, from the poorest to the wealthiest neighbhorhoods. It takes the form of plants and animals who’ve re-entered habitat taken over by urban sprawl or left behind in islands of green, some of which are part of city community centers.

At the conference, I picked up ideas for using technology to connect children to the nature all around them. I learned about a magnifying device that opens new worlds for kids to learn about insects and other small animals. I was introduced to new social media applications that can empower kids to photograph, write about and report what they see to make connections with nature. And I had the opportunity to work with other participants in brainstorming ideas for connecting young people to nature in urban settings.

From the discussion, an idea emerged that I’ll be...

Austin small.jpg

“More than 100 years ago, Frederick Law Olmsted conducted a study of how parks help property values. From 1856 to 1873 he tracked the value of property immediately adjacent to Central Park, in order to justify the $13 million spent on its creation. He found that over the 17-year period there was a $209 million increase in the value of the property impacted by the park.” From

When Texas finally got serious about wanting to prove that parks weren’t just nice to have around, but really added value to communities, they looked to Texas A&M professor John Crompton. Dr. Crompton produced the first Texas look at the economic impact of parks and green spaces in 2001. In 2014 the The Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks was revisited and updated so that it could be current as a tool to help the Texas Legislator understand the true value of parks.

Texas Children...

Camp Fire Central TX.jpg

At Camp Fire Central Texas, I have been volunteering full-time as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) in area of fundraising and development. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, my aim is to increase access to Camp Fire’s nature-based and outdoor programs, particularly for low-income populations. My inherent love for nature and the outdoors was something my parents and schoolteachers helped to foster in my childhood and youth.

As I began my position at Camp Fire, it was startling to me to discover that kids in the United States do not have the same opportunities or outdoor experiences that I took for granted. Delving deeper into the Children and Nature Network community and mission, I realized that the fear of nature is more prevalent than I could have ever expected, and that the consequences of “nature deficit disorder” are real and severe.

I often find it difficult to relay such an important message about reconnecting kids with nature, when it’s something that has been engrained...

service project.jpg

On April 9, 2015, the Texas Conservation Corps at American YouthWorks (TxCC) worked alongside 40 volunteers from around the world who were in Bastrop, Texas for the Children and Nature Network Conference- 2015. This was the conference’s community service project, and after a few days in a conference room, these attendees were ready to be active in the outdoors. They were especially excited to help out Bastrop State Park which experienced a catastrophic wildfire during the summer of 2011.

The Children and Nature Conference is a gathering for ‘dedicated change makers from across the world to learn, connect, envision and build the future of the children and nature movement’. This is a grassroots movement which is focused on ‘tearing down the barriers between children and the natural world and ensuring that our communities are vibrant places where all children and families can access and enjoy the many benefits of nature in their everyday lives’.

Following a group lunch in the park and some brief introductions,...


All too often, people leave workshops or conferences with ambitious goals of changing the world. Fist pumping, hearts beating, rainbows, lucky charms and all of that fluffy happy stuff.

Then……..they get back home or to their place of work and the world catches up to them and they forget how motivated they were because they just walked back into the stuff that they missed while they were at the conference that was so wonderful! They don’t make the effort to continue the conversation and contact those people that had an impact on their experience and made it so meaningful. I’ve been guilty of this before myself! Not this time! I was convinced that I was going to take a call to action seriously, e-mail new contacts that I made at the conference, and write those all-important e-mails that keep a conversation going. Of the 24 e-mails I sent to people, I heard back from 2 people. Do you assume that only 8% want to keep that conversation going?!?!?!? No! You just assume that 92% of those people fell victim to…

When I left the...


As a career biologist, I consider myself someone who is pretty aware of what’s going on in the natural resource field. As a grown man who thought he still experienced nature with a child-like wonder, I thought I had a handle on how to connect kids to the outdoors. Then I met Rusty Keeler at the recent Children and Nature Conference-2015. For those who may not be familiar with Mr. Keeler’s work, he is a sought-after designer of “natural playscapes” or “adventure playgrounds” (see that seek to connect kids (and families) to the outdoors through unstructured experiential play in natural environments. The impact of Mr. Keeler’s session and the lunch conversation that followed reframed my perspective in both a professional and personal level.

Professionally, my career has been dedicated to connecting the public to nature, or more specifically, wildlife. As a result, I have spent 20 years working with communities to restore city parks to their original habitats so the...

Katy Prairie.jpg

HOUSTON (April 28, 2015) – Frostwood Elementary School students today planted a piece of history on the Tiger Prairie, the school’s own on-campus pocket prairie, which was developed with the assistance of the Katy Prairie Conservancy’s (KPC) Prairie Builder Schools program. They were joined by faculty and parents in the ceremony commemorating San Jacinto Day.

In 2014, Bee Balm (a native mint) and Virginia Wildrye seeds from the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site were collected and conserved by KPC’s Conservation Education Director Jaime Gonzalez, with permission from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Natural Resource Coordinator Andrew Sipocz. The Bee Balm was grown with the intent for it to be replanted in April 2015 at a Prairie Builder School, while the Wildrye seeds would be sown at the same time.

These activities were to coincide with the anniversary month of the Battle of San Jacinto, in which Texas won its independence from...

Looking at the pond.jpg

We need wildness. Countless generations have swapped stories over the campfire and stared up at the starry night sky. Yet playful, natural childhoods and direct experiences in the wild are declining as our population becomes increasingly urbanized and wired. Set among the Lost Pines of Bastrop, Texas, the recent Children & Nature Network Conference- 2015 focused on efforts to restore the disappearing connections between today’s younger generation and the natural world.

Keynote speaker Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” declared, “I believe more in charismatic ideas than charismatic leaders.” For me, “rewilding” the human experience was one of the conference’s most compelling ideas.

Rewilding the land, as coined by conservationist David Foreman, is a strategy for restoring biodiversity and reconnecting large wilderness areas. In the field of ecopsychology, rewilding refers to restoring our...


AUSTIN — This year has been a momentous year for the children and nature movement. Ten years after publication of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, and five years after the establishment of the Texas Children in Nature collaborative, there is new and growing urgency around connecting children and families to nature.

The Children & Nature Network 2015 Conference at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort on April 7-9 has attracted more than 500 leaders from around the world representing the conservation, health, education, technology and built- environment communities. Attendees will explore innovative ways to encourage families, schools, churches, non-profits and businesses to support getting kids active and into nature.

“Texas is honored to host this outstanding conference in our state,” says Jennifer Bristol, Coordinator for Texas Children in Nature. “Research shows that children and families who spend time in nature are healthier, happier and smarter. We want this conference to...


“Every Kid In A Park” Initiative Addresses Problems of Inactivity and Obesity, Promotes Health and Learning

AUSTIN — A new National Parks Foundation initiative announced Feb. 19 by the White House emphasizes goals shared by a growing Texas coalition of partners with chapters in major cities, the Texas Children in Nature collaborative.

The ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative gives fourth graders free admission to all National Parks and other national lands during the 2015-2016 school year.

“We are so excited about the new ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative,” says Jennifer Bristol, Coordinator for Texas Children in Nature. “In Texas this really expands the efforts that many of our partners are working on to create more access to nature for families in our rapidly growing state.”

Bristol says kids 12 years old and younger already can play for free at all T...

nr_logo_texas 350.png

Texas Children in Nature and the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin where recently featured on News 8 in Austin as part of their Fit Kids February initiative. The short piece does a good job with reflecting on the need to get kids outdoors and how families can find green spaces and activities on our website- Nature Rocks Texas. Our special thanks to Jeff Stensland and Margaret Russell.

You can watch the full video on Youtube

From the interview with Jeff Stensland:

Just a few hundred feet from one of the area's busiest highways, you might hear a trickle from a nearby waterfall at the nature and Science Center in South Austin. The center has engaged visitors you and old for more than a century.

Margaret Russell runs the center, which is a city park and free to the public. There you can find native Texas wildlife like roadrunners and Moxi the Bobcat.

"We have a stretch of pretty diverse, wild natural areas to explore," she said.

Jennifer Bristol is with...

Starting Out Wild.jpg

Two years ago San Antonio Natural Area Education Coordinator Peggy Spring had a dream of starting an educational program where toddlers love and experience nature in the first years of life. We then started the Starting Out Wild (SOW) concept with using the Growing Up WILD (GUW) curriculum as a base, adapting lesson consistent with the best practices for infant and toddler education and development. The basic format has four segments including; learning, hiking, craft project and snack, highlighted with music and movement and a story on both ends to create a reassuring structure for children and parents. All components are active with substantial nature content reinforced throughout. From the first trial class, for toddlers from 1 year olds who are walking to 3 year olds, the program is immensely popular, soon expanding from one session a month to as many as 4-5, all with waiting lists.

Starting Out Wild programs are currently being offered at Phil Hardberger Park and Friedrich Wilderness Park in the San Antonio Natural Areas.

A 24-four unit curriculum also includes...

playing in the dirt2.jpg

There’s nothing to fear but fear itself, right?! It seems in this day in age, as technology becomes more and more intertwined in our lives, we forget, dare I say fear, the great outdoors. The great unknown. There is so much beyond our front doors, beyond our screens, if we only took a minute to put our phones and ipods away to look and listen.

This is what we try to accomplish at Earth Native Wilderness School-to connect, even reconnect people to the outdoors in a variety of ways, whether it be survival skills, circling around a campfire and singing songs with a dozen children, studying bird language or just playing in the mud with a group of toddlers. At Earth Native, we remind people that magic and mystery do not only lie in the next episode of your favorite television show, or the newest version of a video game. Instead, we help to show people, young and old, the endless beauty and wonder that exists right outside your door!

Many people find nature to be a bit daunting. Understandable! We share this great state of...


Splashing in a puddle. Building a snowman. Making a wish on a dandelion. Building a fort in the woods. These are all moments most of us probably remember from childhood.

Unfortunately, memories like these are growing increasingly foreign in today’s children. They are trading authentic experiences for ones seen on a screen, and as a society we are letting them. Luckily, zoos and aquariums are stepping up to help reverse the trend of lost nature experiences.

While zoological parks may not initially be recognized as a traditional “nature” space, research has shown zoo visits promote an increased connection with and care of nature. These facilities act as a gateway to nature for millions of visitors every year.

With the help of a $10,000 grant, the Dallas Zoo is combatting the couch potato syndrome through our new program, WildFUN (Families United in Nature).

The Zoo recently was awarded the “Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium” grant by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and The Walt Disney Company....

YMCA Austin.jpg

Most people are familiar with the YMCA's role in youth development through popular programs such as swim lessons, youth sports, afterschool care and summer day camp. But for over 100 years, the Y has also played an active role in helping kids and families connect with nature.

The YMCA of Austin, which serves Travis, Hays and Bastrop Counties, provides memberships and programs to more than 65,000 members and another 60,000 nonmember program participants. The Austin Y offers many different nature-oriented opportunities for kids and families, including:

Adventure Guides:

A nationwide YMCA parent/child program designed for kids age 4-16 and their parents. The experience enables parents and kids to have fun while sharing new, healthy, learning adventures. Spending quality one-on-one time as a family will help build a strong bond of trust and memories that will last a lifetime.

Programs are...

clubs small.jpg

Starting a Family Nature Club is a fun way for families to connect and find new ways to explore in nature. When families share the responsibility of finding places to go, programs to try out and events to attend, they can spend more time enjoying being outside together and less time indoors trying to figure out what to do.

How to get started. First, you and your family need to decide that spending time playing, exploring and learning in nature has a value. All families face being bomb-barded with competing needs and daily demands. By acknowledging that being outside is import to your family's health and wellbeing, you are making the commitment to carve out the time for it.

Second, download the Children & Nature Network’s Family Nature Club Tool Kit and book mark the Nature Rocks Texas website in your area. The tool kit will help walk you through some of the questions to ask other families, safety tips and step-by-step instructions...


Texas Children in Nature is a network of non-profits, government agencies, businesses and concerned individuals that are dedicated to connecting children and families with nature. When you partner with TCiN or one of our regional collaboratives, you are connecting with over 300 organizations who offer conservation and environmental education programs, create access to nature, and who focus on mental and physical health solutions.

Because we know that families want to explore in nature that is near-by and local, we have created local collaboratives that meet the specific needs of the communities they serve. You can join one of the Collaboratives in; Austin, San Antonio, North Texas,...

TNC- feature.png

The Texas Nature Challenge connects kids and families with fun outdoor adventures to make memories that will last a lifetime.

The challenge features family activities at nature centers, museums, gardens, or local and state parks designed to encourage families to explore and learn something unique to that location.

“I enjoyed going to new places with my family that I didn’t know existed around the coastal bend,” says Adina Gonzales, one of the youth participants in the 2013 Coastal Bend Challenge. “I love spending time with my kids outdoors and this gave us something to look forward to each week,” added Adina’s father, Rick.

Families may participate by visiting the designated sites, and then create a nature journal, scrapbook or blog to record their experiences and have a chance to win prizes.

“Children today are spending more than 7 hours a day with media. Activities like the Texas Nature Challenge create opportunities for families to engage with their kids or grandkids to have fun, healthy things to do...

boy in picking up rock.jpg

Outside time is so important in getting to know ourselves. We all need that quiet time of calming introspection; time alone without distraction doing what comes naturally. Time alone with our thoughts, time to learn and really get to know ourselves. When we allow kids to have unstructured play outside and they get to do and explore with no rules or right or wrong it strengthens them.

Pile rocks, add water, they fall. Make mud, put it on the rocks, they don't fall. How high can I pile them? What if I add some grass to it? …Hey, look a grasshopper; I wonder if I can catch it. Where did it go? Cool, that bird is watching it too. It ate it. What, time for dinner? "Mom I saw a bird catch a grasshopper. That is what they eat right? It made me kinda sad."

"Don't get dirty…" was not something my son ever heard me say. In fact, I loved to see him coming home with muddied hands, the knees of his pants wet from some investigation that required a closer look. Yes, there were trips to museums and such, but most outings were just that, out-outside, out to the park, out to the...


The fall of 2013 saw two major wins for the improvement of children’s health. The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines on managing children and adolescents’ media time. Their research showed that children and teens are using media more than originally thought and the numbers are staggering. They are now offering guidelines for parents and physicians to build awareness of all the health issues that can come from too much time sitting or being connected to media. The recommendations are;

“The AAP advocates for better and more research about how media affects youth. Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues. A recent study shows that the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with different media, and older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. Kids who have a TV in their bedroom spend more time with media. About 75 percent of 12- to...


When I was a child my parents subscribed to National Geographic and I always looked forward every month to see what new wonders of the world they would surprise and delight us with in their latest issue. We kept those magazines for years and used them for all sorts of homework and art projects. There was one issue in particular that was my favorite and I still have it; August, 1976. That month featured a beautiful photo of a woman surrounded by monarch butterflies in their secret wintering haven in Mexico.

Growing up in Central Texas, I’ve always had a special admiration for the monarch butterfly. Each April and October they flutter along ancient migration routes that carry them through Texas. When I was at college at Texas State University, I would linger in the library on campus to watch the butterflies float along, catching the updrafts of the building as they journey to and from Mexico. On days when I felt like there was no possible way that I could continue on with...

playground 2.jpg

HISTORICALLY, FREE spontaneous play was tempered with physical work and set in the fields, barnyards, streams, countryside, and vacant city lands. Today, children are abandoning outdoor explora­tion, free play, and learning in nature for sedentary cyber play, junk food, and the destructive effects of high stakes testing and over-protectionism. The dilemma thickens. During the first decade of the present century, more than a quarter of American children and more than half of those in developing countries have grown up in urban slums. Most may never experience more than fleeting contacts with the natural wonders of wild places and farms and accompanying heightened senses and creative products of meaning­ful work and transformative play. Many will find their traditional grounds for play taken by machines, concrete, and steel or closed by fences, traffic, and privacy claims. For more please open the PDF.


This article was published in the Austin American Statesman and re-posted on the C&NN website:

Richard Louv confesses one thing right away: He’d rather fish than write.

Which is appropriate, considering that Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” (with an assist from his wife, he points out) and has written eight books, including “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principle,” about the growing disconnect between humans and nature.

Richard Louv believes our children are suffering from “nature deficit disorder” because they sit in front of computers and don’t play outdoors anymore. He’s written a book about it called “Last Child in the Woods” and was in Austin talking about it recently.

Assuming he’d rather walk than sit, too, we joined him for a stroll around Lady Bird Lake, during which he explained that society’s connection to nature is nothing new. It’s been breaking for three or four decades.

“Throughout history, kids have spent their developing years in nature, playing or working. In our...

TOF Logo TCIN.jpg

As environmental educators, and outdoor enthusiasts we can sometimes forget how even the simplest of outdoor activities can be intimidating for parents who were not raised outdoors. I’ve worked with many adults who are afraid to leave their tents at night, and others who mistake armadillos for bears in the dim evening light. But that’s where we all start before we’ve had some basic experience. I have the great pleasure of working with a program that teaches these families the basics of being comfortable camping and playing outdoors. By supporting the whole family unit, we can get the parents comfortable outdoors, which means we can reach the kids for life.

Texas Outdoor Family is a Texas State Park family camping program that addresses common barriers to enjoying outdoor recreation. Many of the families we work with are pretty intimidated by overnight stays in parks, but by the end of the weekend, families have redefined their comfort zones and are committed to spending more time outside....


The importance of nature-based play has gradually become forefront in an array of research fields. From the more obvious physical benefits to the complex mental benefits, nature has proved time and again to be the cure-all for a variety of common ailments. Doctors are even beginning to prescribe nature as a alternative to children and adults. Richard Louv, author of the famed “Last Child in the Woods,” has spawned a growing culture of activists devoted to helping their communities re-learn how to play outside. At the San Antonio Zoo, you will find an entire exhibit dedicated to this very notion. Since Kronkosky’s Tiny Tot Nature Spot opened in 2004, we have been working towards a single goal of helping families with young children “Grow with Nature.” Last April the Zoo even held a community-wide event focused solely on this purpose, called “Get OUT and PLAY Day.” Armed...

from the newsroom.jpg

So far 2013 has been a great year for spreading the message that children need nature and nature needs children. Three great articles came out during the Spring of 2013 that touch on how important it is to connect children with the outdoors so that they will learn to care for the natural world that they will one day inherit. A fun article titled “Dirty Nails and Goat Slobber; 6 Ways to Instill the Love of the Wild in a Child” by Russell A. Graves appeared in the January addition of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Magazine which weaves the need to get kids outdoors with fun family tales from the past. Texas Wildlife Association published “For the Children, For the Future” by Mary O. Parker in the conservation legacy section of the May 2013 issue. The TWA magazine article focuses on how outdoor education cannot take place in the classroom. It reports that having a well-educated, environmentally literate youth is critical for the protection...

plug in to unplug.png

The days of parents saying “just go outside and play” sadly are slipping away. Often kids and parents don’t feel confident enough in the outdoors and are afraid to explore. Instead kids spend an average of 7.5 hours per day, that’s over 50 hours per week, with technology. A child is 6 times more likely to play a video game than riding a bike. With that much time spent with technology kids have developed a comfortable relationship with their TVs, computers, cell phones, IPods and tablet devices.

So why not take the technology outside? If technology and handheld devices are like a warm security blanket that gives a child the confidence to try something new; then by all means use that tool! Today there are many wonderful Apps that are designed to help kids explore in nature. The National Environmental Education Foundation has released a document fully loaded with great tips on how to successfully integrate technology into exploring nature. It’s important to...