How to Experience Nature in the City in Seven Days

people in Central Park

Nature in the city? Nothing, nada, zip. Or at least that’s the popular myth.

The reality is abundant, quirky, intriguing, green (and pink, brown, gray, black, sleek, furred and feathered).

The reality is kids at public parks and urban nature centers. Kids with balcony, backyard, community and school gardens.

The reality is kids curious about the squirrels, sparrows, worms, finches, ants, butterflies, bees, flowers, shrubs, trees and occasional hawk that are their urban neighbors.

Raising a child in the city, I’m constantly hearing about the myth (usually from non-city dwellers) while experiencing this very different reality.

Looking for ways to celebrate National Wildlife Week and welcome spring? There’s no need to leave the city. And these seven things—one for each day of the week—will give your family a chance to say howdy to your winged and four-footed neighbors—and to your two-legged ones as well. (Don’t live in the city? This week-long adventure might be applied to a suburban backyard, a park or a stretch of trail.)

(And, yeah, there’s homework, sports and after-school activities to reckon with this week, too. Modify the adventure below to your own family’s schedule and interests. If you have time to touch only one tree or identify one bird, that’s fine. Whatever helps cultivate your kids’ passion for the outdoors.)

Monday—Meeting the Neighbors. 

Take a walk, take your time, get to know the birds and animals in your neighborhood. What are they doing and eating? Do you notice any nests? Play hawk: Which child can spot the most animals? (Mel Boring has authored a series of kid-friendly nature guides that may help with identification.)

Tuesday—Taller than a House.

Spend time with nearby trees. Touch the bark, examine the leaves, finger fallen acorns and seeds. Do you spot any of Monday’s neighbors in the branches? Notice any flowers or seedlings?

Wednesday—Cool Creepy-Crawlies.

Look for insects and spiders.

Thursday—De-clutter the Home.

The home, that is, of your wild neighbors. Clean up litter on your block or in the park and playground.

Friday—Hold that Pose.

Take photos or draw pictures of your neighbors, be they busy squirrels or quiet oaks. For tips on taking nature photos, visit our PhotoZone.

Saturday—Wild Party.

How do your kids want to celebrate National Wildlife Week? Visit a nature center? Put their photos and leaves together into a collage, booklet or poster? Find or write a nature poem? Draw a cartoon? Put out some treats for the birds? Make this party a family thing, with parents writing, performing, and drawing, too.

Sunday—Plan the Next Bash.

Might your family want to create or expand a small backyard habitat? Plant a container or balcony garden or learn about native plants? Join a community garden? That way, you can keep your wild neighbors happy and prolong this week’s celebration into the months ahead.

Berries in the city

My family has had a good time in the past with these outdoor city activities and hope your family does as well. Do let us know what your kids enjoyed. Here’s a poem that my 11-year-old daughter wrote to commemorate the recent blizzard—and a photo she took of berries in the park.

Winter Haiku

The snow falls swiftly,
Coating the barren landscape
With a quiet hush. 

    By Christy, 11



Mary Quattlebaum is a mother and the author of award-winning children’s books, including Winter Friends (outdoor poems) and Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns and other chapter books about a boy and his adventures in a city community garden. Check for activities connected with Mary’s books.