Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Family Travel Book: Your Guide to the National Parks

I hope after reading my Earth Day pledge earlier this week, you’ve given some serious thought to visiting a national park in the near future. To help with your planning, you might want to check out Your Guide to the National Parks, “the complete guide to all 58 national parks.”

Book Review: Your Guide to the National Parks

Author Michael Joseph Oswald spent a full two years exploring and photographing the parks. In the process, he logged thousands of miles hiking, paddling, and pedaling his way across America. The result is a one-stop resource for everything you might want to know about U.S. national parks – from when to go and what to see to fast facts and suggested itineraries.

What’s inside: This 704-page guide features in-depth information about all 58 national parks. In it, you’ll find:
  • Introduction includes info about planning your trip (park passes, packing suggestions, camping guidelines, etc.), social media contacts for the parks, a “best of the best” (best scenic drives, best for hiking, best for families, etc.) & suggested trips
  • Parks organized by region (East, South, Southwest, West, Alaska, Remote Islands)
  • Each park description includes an intro, basic logistics, maps, popular activities & a brief vacation planner; there are also listings of nearby restaurants, grocery stores, lodging & attractions
What you’ll like:
  • It’s packed with the details you need to plan a visit, including contact information, camping & lodging info, trails, activities, maps & more.
  • Lots of color photographs and easy-to-read maps. Both help you get a better sense of the areas you’re considering visiting.
  • The “What’s Nearby” sections helps you know what resources are available near each park – plus how viable it might be to visit multiple parks during one trip.
Book Review: Your Guide to the National Parks

What you might wish was different:
  • Only national parks are featured, which leaves out more than 300 other area designations such as national preserves, national monuments, national memorials, national historic sites, national seashores, and national battlefield parks.
  • The recommendation “for kids” at each park is pretty much the same: Participate in the junior ranger program. As a parent who has been to a number of national parks, I know that’s just one aspect of family friendly activities worth checking out.
Note: I purchased a copy of Your Guide to the National Parks for personal use. I received no compensation of any kind to share my honest review with you here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

My Earth Day Pledge: Visit a National Park with Kids

“Guard it well, for it is far more precious than money … once destroyed, nature’s beauty cannot be purchased at any price.” – Ansel Adams
This is an exciting week for nature lovers. For one thing, April 22 is Earth Day – a day dedicated around the world to environmental activities and celebrations.

The second reason this is an exciting week is because from April 19–27, 2004, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation will host National Park Week, featuring special events in parks nationwide.

When it comes to kids celebrating Earth Day, my feeling is that getting kids outside and connected to nature is the most important thing we can do to encourage them to protect the environment. Which is why I’m making a pledge this Earth Day – one I hope you will consider as well.

Earth Day Pledge: Visit a National Park with Kids

My Earth Day Pledge: Visit a National Park with Kids

Give a kid a chance to see one of America’s amazing wild spaces. With you! Relive memories of a favorite park or discover a new-to-you place instead.

During National Park Week, there are activities and programs taking place across the country. Now is the perfect time to discover the diverse wildlife, iconic landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history found in America’s national parks.

“But I can’t get to a national park this week!”

Neither can we. But we’re committing to visit a new-to-us national park some time in the very near future.

“I don’t know what there is for kids to do in national parks.”

Plenty! There are all kinds of family friendly activities going on during National Park Week. For events taking place across the country, check out

Many of the parks offer a junior ranger program, which gives kids and families the chance to explore and learn about their national parks – and discover how they can help protect them today and in the future.

National parks also host a range of ranger-led activities, many of which are specifically geared toward children and families. (These programs are listed in the guide you receive when you enter the park.)

Although each national park is unique, you can count on open space for kids to explore the natural world. There are streams, creeks, waterfalls, hiking trails, sandy spaces and more all waiting to be explored.

Visit a National Park with Kids

Note: This post was inspired by’s #redgoesgreen project. Bloggers are invited to make a pledge this Earth Day to give back to the Earth in some way, big or small – and to encourage readers to do the same.
Will you make the pledge?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Movie Review - Island of Lemurs: Madagascar

Now open at an IMAX theater near year, Island of Lemurs: Madagascar, takes audiences on a journey to the remote and wondrous world of Madagascar. And it’s a 3D journey at that.

Movie Review - Island of Lemurs: Madagascar

Narrated by Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, this 40-minute documentary explores the plight of the lemurs that call this island home. These critters have an amazing story of adaptation to tell, having arrived somewhat accidentally in Madagascar more than 60 million years ago. Have a peek:

Island of Lemurs: Madagascar introduces us to the lemurs living within Ranomafana National Park, 112,000 acres of protected rainforest, and the preservation work of American primatologist Dr. Patricia C. Wright.

Where once these amazing creatures thrived, today more than 90 percent of their forests have been destroyed. Many of the diverse species that had once evolved are now lost. And more than three quarters of the lemurs that remain are at risk of extinction. It’s a message worth spreading.

What you’ll like:
  • All the playful lemurs. They’re cute, they’re playful and the kids will love ’em. The 3D footage certainly makes you feel like you’re among them.
  • The focus on conservation. Neither The Big Explorer nor I knew too much about lemurs or their plight, so we both learned a lot.
What you might wish was different:
  • It’s only available in IMAX 3D at select theaters (see below for listings). And yes, the 3D version left me with a slight headache, though The Big Explorer was fine.
  • It feels short. Yes, the lemurs are cute and the footage is amazing. But both myself and The Big Explorer were left wanting more information at film’s end. What can we do to help the lemurs?
Rating: G

Running time: 40 minutes

Where it’s playing: In Los Angeles at the California Science Center (click here for show times); for show times elsewhere in the U.S., Canada & worldwide, click here

Note: We received complimentary tickets to see Island of Lemurs: Madagascar in exchange for providing my honest review with you. Read my full disclosure policy for more information.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Outdoor Math Game: Counting Items in Nature

I had a lot of fun sharing ideas for learning to read outdoors on Childhood 101 last year. Now Christie and I have put together another great series I think you’ll enjoy – this one on discovering math in the great outdoors.

One simple outdoor math game The Little Explorer enjoys at the moment is a twist on a basic nature scavenger hunt. Instead of simply looking for certain items in nature, we count how many of each item we find.

 Outdoor Math Game: Counting Items in Nature

Outdoor Math Game: Counting Items in Nature
 Before you head outside, create a list of items for your scavenger hunt. Since we planned on having our adventure at home, we thought about what types of natural items we might find in our front and back yards. Then we made a list. Ours included things like trees, dandelions, flowers, spider webs, roly-polies and birds.

Once you’ve created your list, grab something to write with and head outside. To play:
  • Look for the first item on your list. Count how many of those items you see. For example, we found two trees in our backyard.
  • Write down that number. If you’d like, you can keep a tally instead, using a line to indicate each item you find instead of numbers. This works well if you find a lot of one item, like flowers or leaves.
  • Continue through the list, searching for each of the items. Record how many of each you find. 
  • Don’t forget to take your time and look around. When we were counting trees, we spotted a hummingbird. When we were looking for bugs, we discovered “a billion ants” (by The Little Explorer’s count, that is).
  • When you’re done, take a look at the results. Which natural item did you find the most of? The least?

We made this outdoor math game a little more challenging by counting items in both our backyard and our front yard. Then we added the two together.

It might be fun to compare the results of our late afternoon hunt with those from another time of day – or even another season.

If you liked this activity, the fun doesn’t end here! Come see how The Little Explorer used his growing math skills to make nature art over on Childhood 101. 

Have you ever used nature to help your children learn about math?

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