Backyard Adventuring

What if we all made a commitment to go out the door and explore every single day?

Look at where we live! If not here, then where?  Our backyards, sidewalks, streets and public green spaces are safe places. We have acres and acres of woods and miles and miles of lakeshore that are accessible. Unfortunately not to all, but to many. Nevermind the yearning for faraway destinations. In the words of Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

We can, and we must, capture a spirit of adventure that lies closer to home. 

Enter backyard adventuring. 

Let’s re-find, and redefine, the everyday places in our everyday lives. Now more than ever before, we need to recognize that these nearby places matter. 



Wild leeks (aka, ramps, spring onions,wood leek, ail de bois) are a wild onion native to North America. One of the first plants to appear in the spring, wild leeks have a flavor and odor that is a combination of onions and garlic. In the onion family (Alliaceae), wild leeks can be found in soil habitats that are sandy on hillsides or moist near streams 

What They Look Like:  

– Grow in groups with beautiful, flat, broad, smooth, light green leaves

– Lower stems have deep purple or burgundy tints

– Scallion-like, white bulb strongly rooted with short ‘hairs’ just beneath the surface of the soil 

– Break a leaf or stem and take a sniff of the strong and distinctive onion scent 

How to Harvest:

– Carry a cloth bag (plastic bags promote wilting) to let them breathe

– Use a tool like a long knife or dandelion digger to help loosen the root hairs that grow from the tip of the bulb before pulling (to avoid breaking off the stem)

– Don’t leave piles of leeks on the kitchen counter too long or your kitchen will smell 

How to Cook:

– Both the white bulb and broad green leaves of wild leeks are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked, substituting in any recipe calling for scallions or leeks

– Wild leeks stay fresh, if unwashed, for over a week in the refrigerator

– To use fresh, cut off the root hairs, rinse thoroughly, and scrub off any excess dirt on the bulbs

– To preserve, blanch for 2-3 minutes and then pickle, dry or freeze



Have Fun!

Take a break from chores, schedules and to-do lists.  Try not to look at it as one more “should”. Just 15-20 minutes outside is often enough to rejuvenate if we are fully present and focused on the moment. Research shows that we all benefit from play! Try having fun with your kids but without telling them how to do it.

Ditch The Agenda

Let your kids’ (and your) curiosity take the lead. Be willing to give up a schedule so you can make discoveries without worrying about a time limit.

Say ‘I Don’t Know’

You don’t have to be the expert. Instead learn alongside your kids by saying: “How can we find out?” More important than having answers is asking questions and being curious. Use your sense of wonder to learn and discover together.

Encourage Unstructured Play

Kids need space to explore on their own terms without grown ups giving all the directions and rules. Let them figure out what to do, and how to do it instead of starting with a structured activity. Stand back and watch where their imaginations and creativity take them. Give support and guidance when needed.

Keep It Simple

Heading out without any special toys or equipment teachers your kids to use their imaginations and/or what they find lying around. Remember that boredom is one of the best catalysts for creativity!

Slow Down, Relax and Enjoy

Make time for “down time” outdoors.  Often we forget to just ‘be here now’–watch the clouds, lie in the grass or lean against a tree trunk.  Have kids find a special ‘sit spot’ in your backyard that is their own where they can go again and again to play or unwind.

Forgo The Phone

Putting your phone away changes everything–gone is the distraction that diverts your attention along with the need to snap photos/selfies and post them. Instead you can be fully present. This can be very challenging at first but like anything else, it gets easier and more gratifying with practice. Don’t let the grumbling deter you; the entire family will reap the benefits of unplugging. If you’re going to allow phones, then create a specific purpose for using them (e.g., snap a photo of a plant to be drawn later) or set a time limit when they need to be put away.

Get Comfy!

Stretch your own comfort level with bugs and worms, rain and mud, snow and cold, darkness and the likes.  Your kids will pick up on your squeamishness or discomfort. Let them see you relaxed and enjoying yourself outdoors.

Give Permission To Get Messy

Getting dirty is an essential part of outdoor discovery, at any age. You need to say “It’s ok!” so your kids don’t worry about getting in trouble for dirty clothes, wet shoes or grubby hands.

Bring the Indoors Out

Go outside to do the things you usually do inside – eating meals, reading books, drawing, or painting projects.  Bring the “indoor” toys outside and let your kids use them in new ways.



Whether you’re five feet from the front door, walking around the block or exploring a place nearby, here are some things to do when you’re out and about.

These activities are kid tested, but can be enjoyed by people of all ages. 

Even better, no experience needed and nobody needs to be an expert.  Go on, get out, and give it a try!



 In our fast-paced wired world, so often we forget to make time to be still. When we are intentional about it, just 60 seconds is enough. Wherever you are outside, whatever you’re doing, call it out like a proclamation: “60. Seconds. Of. Silence.” And then explain: “Here’s how it works. When I say go, stop. Be still. Be silent. And listen. You can close your eyes if you’d like. Or not. Get comfy. And settle in. No talking.. And no noise making. Because if you make a sound that just ruins it for everybody. Any questions? Ok. Here we go. 1.2. 3. Start 60 second of silence now…”   Enjoy!

Afterward, give everybody the opportunity to share something they were thinking, seeing, feeling…



Wherever you are, this exercise in mindfulness allows you to focus on the here and now whether you are sitting still or on the move walking, jogging, or biking. You can do this one in your own mind, share your thoughts out loud with others, or record it on a paper/journal. 

Make observations about your surroundings using each of your six senses. You can keep it simple with one observation or get more detailed by recording more than two or as many as possible:

  • I see…
  • I hear…
  • I smell…
  • I feel… (externally on your body or internally as emotions)
  • I taste… (use caution with kids)
  • I wonder… (the 6th and arguably most important)



Slowing down to become more aware of our surroundings is a skill that can be practiced anywhere and anytime. Find a spot outside (or look out a window) where you can return again. These activities can be done every day to create a daily practice or every once in a while to become more aware of your everyday surroundings. Optional: paper or journal with a pen/pencil/markers.

Check out the View

From your sit spot, look out in all four cardinal directions for a few minutes then close your eyes.  What was the view? Now open your eyes and without looking at the view: How many details can you remember? Share them out loud, draw a picture, make a list, or write a story about the view. Next look at the view again and add five more details to your drawing, list, or story. 

Journaling the Cardinal Directions

Mark your location in the middle of the paper and create four sections, labeling them as North, South, East and West. From your spot, look out and make observations in each of the cardinal directions. 

Record your observations in each quadrant by either drawing or writing (e.g., list adjectives, write a poem, create questions). Do this on a regular basis – every day, week or month – so you can notice changes over time/seasons.

Journaling the  Four W’s

Find a spot outside (or look out a window that you want to return to for many days in a row). Divide your paper into four sections and record observations for each W:

  • Weather – Date, Season, Time, Temperature, Wind, Sky
  • Watch – Choose something that is interesting to look at; Observe it for at least 60 seconds and then draw, diagram, or list what you observe
  • Write – Record a stream of consciousness (aka free writing) for at least 60 seconds
  • Wonder – Write down at least 3 questions about what you’ve observed in your spot (“I wonder…”)

Touch Five

In your sit spot, stay seated or lay down. Now reach out to touch five  different things. What do you feel? What might it be? Notice the shape, texture and temperature of the objects. Now open your eyes and look at your five objects. Draw or trace them. Write five words to describe each one. Write a poem or create a story that includes all five objects.. 



These walks are intended for outdoor spaces of any size and can be adapted for inside spaces too. 

Penny Walk

Give each person a penny to hold.  How many things can you find that fit on it? (e.g., a tiny leaf, a hunk of dirt)

Numbers Walk

Look for things in numbers – 1 tree, 2 rocks, 3 clouds, etc.

Bigger/Smaller Walk

Look alternately for something bigger, then something smaller as you hike.  Or try finding things shorter, taller, shorter, taller…

Wander And Wonder Walk

No matter the size of the space, set some boundaries (e.g., no further than that maple tree or stay on this side of our bag) and start wandering around. Somebody hollers “Stop!” Everybody freezes, looks around, and comes up with a wondering: “I wonder…”.  Holler them out loud and then yell “Start!”. Repeat.


GO HUNTIN’!                                                                               

Nature Scavenger Hunt

Create a list of natural objects to be discovered.  Instead of making the list for your kids, ask them for their ideas and create it together.  Assign points for each item found/collected/recorded. Send them off alone or in teams. Hint: whoever takes the longest to make their discoveries gets bonus points. Google “backyard scavenger hunt” to find hundreds of free printables. Here’s a sample hunt to try:


2 seeds                                    Something blue                      Something round

An evergreen cone               Something smelly                  A sign that an animal left

A feather                                Something fuzzy                    Something beautiful

Something sharp                  An animal home                   Exactly 10 of something

An ant hill                              Lichen                                     Something that makes noise

A leaf with teeth                   Something surprising           Something amazing



We are so, so fortunate up here to have so many places that are dedicated to letting us get outside. Some of our favorite areas to run are either part of the Little Traverse Conservancy or the North Country Trail system. They are well marked and easy to find. The Conservancy has a super great Website and app that will get you right to the trail head and list all the trails. The Northwest Lower Michigan chapter of the North Country Trail has a great Map, too, that will get you the trailheads.

Some Great Preserves to Try: Offield Preserve, Elmer Johnston, Good Hart Farms

NCT Sections: Larks Lake heading north to Robinson, South from Stutsmanville toward Brutus Road, the Skyline section near Petoskey.