Monday, June 13, 2011

8 Ways to Connect With Nature in the Car

Today’s post is part of “Your Green Hour Survival Guide,” a series which I hope will provide you with inspiration to make getting outside every day a habit.

This weekend we’ll be hitting the road for our first notable car trip of the summer – a short trek to Las Vegas for a mini-family reunion.

And guess what? We won’t be bringing along any digital support. That’s right, no portable DVD players, handheld video games or the like are found on our road trips. Instead, we rely on each other and the world outside the car window for entertainment.

Just in time for summer (and the season of road trip adventures near and far), here are some of our favorite ways to get in some green time while we’re in the car.

Watch for wildlife.
We routinely drive what we lovingly call “one of the longest stretches of nothingness” in California (Interstate 5 for those in the know) to visit family in the Bay area. On our last visit, we decided to pay attention to wildlife. In addition to a ton of cows, we also spotted horses, sheep and numerous different kinds of birds – all animals we don’t get to see at home.
Look for new-to-you flowers and trees.

This works well along Interstate 5, which is covered with roadside crops. We try to guess what’s growing on the ground and on the trees. Who can find the tallest, or fullest, tree? The most flowers?

Make handprints on the window.
This is a special treat for the kids because it’s something they don’t normally get to do. They especially like making handprints, sticks (to count with), cars and even words or names.

Play car window nature bingo.
Thanks to the folks at National Wildlife Federation for creating this nature-themed bingo game. Kids are inspired to look for birds, butterflies, bridges, flowers and more. There are four different cards, just in case the kids (or you) want to compete.

Take in nature during rest stops.
Little legs need stretching, so rest stops are a given. Use the opportunity to take a look around, or a listen, to see what nature you can discover. We’ve seen bunnies, heard owls – even spotted lightening in the far-off distance.

Do some cloud watching.
Look for animals, shapes, objects and whatever else your imagination can dream up. And ask questions: How fast are the clouds moving? Are they white, gray or black? Do they look heavy with rain or puffy like cotton?

Experience a sunset.
Sunset is a peaceful time – a time to slow down for the several minutes it takes to watch the sky go from day to evening. The last time we tried this, we all guessed how long it would take for the sky to go completely dark after the sun went down. The big explorer won.

Gaze at the moon & stars.
With few stars usually visible in the night sky from our backyard, this is one of our favorite road trip activities. We stare out the sky and try to name the constellations. We count the number of stars we see and pick out the biggest and brightest.

How do you tune in to nature when you’re in the car?


  1. Great car activities! We love cloud watching! I am thankful that my girls usually sleep most of our trips between LA and SD. Not so much on the airplane rides to Ohio though.

  2. What a wonderful post, so many great ideas! :) We love cloud watching in the car too:)

  3. @Abbey: Yeah, the three hour ride between LA & SD is usually reserved for sleeping in our car, too. We've got a long plane ride coming up later this summer, though & I'm also sure neither of the kids will sleep a wink. Ugh.

    @Catherine: Thanks for your kind words. Yay for clouds! :)

  4. Good luck with the ride! My girls are in the car for long rides usually several times a month as we go to visit family a LOT! They don't sleep in the car which why we pack the car full of books and games. They are not quite big enough to really see out the windows yet very easily so that is not much of an option for us. Great ideas!

  5. Nice and practical tips. We miss so much when we're hooked into media. Just getting out on the road means seeing the big, sweeping vistas we don't see living in the city. And it's great to start when kids are young. We all handled long car trips with no movies or iPods and survived pretty well. Have a good trip!

  6. @Abbie: Books & games are another great form of entertainment for kids - especially if they encourage talking about the natural world or even the destination. Thanks for sharing!

    @Deborah: Indeed, we all managed to exist just fine in the days before DVDs & iPods! I love the feeling of adventure I have when we hop in the car for a long ride, don't you?

  7. I drove 7 hours with my girls today - without electronics. As the radio was crappy, we spent a good deal of time singing. The rest of the time was devoted to summer projects prep and the produce game - you pick which produce you want to be and a person asks questions that apply to one or more produce. For instance today I was a string bean, my girls were respectively an artichoke and a cucumber. Questions included "Which one of us is a spring crop?" "Which one of us can you eat raw?" "Which one of us is great with vinaigrette?" and so forth. For the singing, I think I'll need to print some lyrics for the next trip. It's tricky to fake all the lyrics of Grease or Mamma Mia.

    1. You are brilliant! Thanks for sharing. :-)


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