Nature can be a wonderful and frugal way to spend family time. Unless the weather is blazing hot, it is enjoyable, accessible by anyone, and usually free or low cost if you go to a National Park. If you have a child with autism, you qualify for the FREE Lifetime National Park Disability Pass. It gives you free or low cost access to every National Park in America. The beautiful thing about hanging out in nature is that it provides hours of fun with something new to see or explore every time. Enjoying nature together as a family can be a great way to make memories to draw from on autism rising days. Think of all the time that you can spend together walking, talking and learning about nature, as well as learning more about each other. Nature time can be educational as well as just a time to relax together.
10 Ways to Get Out and Enjoy Nature as a Family
Bird Watching. If you’ve never done it, it’s a blast. Did you know that there are over 9,000 different species of birds? Make a game of it with your family to see how many you can identify. There are logbooks specifically for identifying the birds plus you can take time to learn about them together as well. Bird watching is a great way to work on the habit of observation in addition to the lines of communication. Southern Arizona is a birding paradise including the hummingbird capital of the United States.
Take a hike. There are so many opportunities to get out and walk on a trail or take a hike through the woods. Pack a backpack and hit the trails to see where it takes you! Be sure to know what wildlife you may encounter and be prepared for it. We would never hike here in Southern Arizona without loads of water, a snake venom kit and a bear horn. Sounds like overkill but better to be prepared than dead. It’s also good to be sure to have a cell phone on you in case of emergencies. The caveat to that is sometimes they don’t work in remote areas. Best to tell someone who isn’t going with you where you’re going in case you don’t return. We shoot a message to a friend just in case. It’s always better to be overly cautious than to risk a catastrophe because no one knew where to look. We also live super close to Mexico so we have some immigration issues that most people don’t have so we are well aware of safety.
Go on a family bike ride. Taking a pedal together through town is a great way to get some active exercise while also allowing for some great conversations! This is ,of course, if your child with autism can indeed ride a bike. We got Logan one of those 3 wheel bike3 wheel bikes for riding but a tandem bike would have worked too. Remain open minded to make adaptations as necessary to make it a successful outing for everyone. We also like to keep one parent with Logan while the other goes at a faster pace with Madison. It’s important to remember that the typical child can often do things the child with autism cannot. The outing needs to be successful for everyone, autism or not.
Try rock hiding. If you’ve never heard of rock hiding, you are in for a treat! As a family, gather palm size rocks and paint something fun on them. It can be anything that you want…a phrase, a smiley face, it doesn’t matter. Take those rocks around town and hide them in random places. The point is to have someone else find your painted rock, bring a smile to their face, and then have them pass it on and do the same. There are entire Facebook groups dedicated to rock hiding and finding in big cities.
Play a game of basketball. Challenge the adults versus the kids and have a fun pick-up game of basketball at the park or get a hoop at home. Talk about putting teamwork to the test! Again, be open to adapting the game to fit your child with autism’s limitations. The point is to make him feel competent in the exchange as well as having fun. This isn’t supposed to be competitive. It’s supposed to be fun for everyone.
Go fishing. Have an urge to catch your dinner? Grab those poles and head out to see if you can catch some fish! Fishing is a great way for families to relax, talk and enjoy the day. When the children were younger, we would take them to a stocked pond in order to make catching a fish a breeze. It can be hard for any child, autism or not, to learn to be patient waiting for the fish to bite. I’d rather make it easy than risk a meltdown. After we were successful at the stocked pond, we ventured out a time or two to fishing in a lake. The kids much preferred the stocked pond, of course.
Watch an outdoor movie. Not all outdoor time has to revolve around exercise. If you have a projector, set it up outside and enjoy a movie together under the stars! Lots of times, in the spring and summer, local parks will host movies in the park. We like to make a picnic with our favorite foods. I will allow Logan to bring his Nintendo DS to pass the time successfully while we wait for dusk for the movie to start. You still have to scaffold the interaction to make the child successful.
Fly those kites! Everyone loves flying kites! Work together to get them in the air and then watch them fly high! Hold on tight though or you may be missing a kite or two by the end of the day. Your child with autism may need some assistance with keeping the kite up in the air. Just like with other interactions, it’s best to have one adult there just for the child with autism. They may need hand over hand assistance to be successful at this.
Go apple picking. Have an orchard nearby and a hankering for some fresh apples? Grab a bucket and pick your choice of juicy apples to enjoy! Nothing better than eating apples that you picked together! You can take them home and make a pie together at the end of the day as well. This works for any u pick field like strawberries or peaches. What you pick isn’t important here. It’s that you do it together to make memories.
Search for hidden treasures. Who knows what treasures await you in the local woods? Grab a metal detector and see if you and your family can find any hidden gems. It allows for hours of fun, walking around and can provide a lot of excitement, especially when you hear that beeping that something might be waiting under the ground. This also gives you a chance to practice productive uncertainty. Geocaching is a great family activity alongside this as well.
Being together as a family doing things in nature can vary from a simple walk around the neighborhood to a hot air balloon ride. The possibilities are endless! Try a few of the suggestions above to see if you and your family enjoy any of them. You never know, your crew may really enjoy a couple of them. It could start a new weekly family tradition to get out and enjoy exploring nature together. The caveat is to always end on a successful note and don’t push it too long. A short fun time in nature is better than no time in nature or one that ends in tears. The goal is to build fun family memories and make your child want to do it again.