As residents of Westchester we are so lucky to live in a county that has almost everything. At any given time we are about an hour away from a big city, a farm, a forest, the ocean, and everything in between. Westchester County is home to a great amount of nature centers, preserves, and parks. Many can be enjoyed by the whole family for little to no cost and with minimal planning. So if you are looking for a unique and interesting way to spend your day, try out one of these mom-approved favorites below.
Something For Everyone
For families with children of varying age, nature centers can often be a great destination. Many offer something for people of many age ranges. The Rye Nature Center has a great natural playground complete with wooden carvings to climb on and a slide carved into a hill. Your little ones will enjoy playing there while older children may take interest at peeking at the different live animals they keep inside the center. The Greenburgh Nature Center and Saxon Woods also have great playgrounds to help expend all that natural energy little ones seem to have an endless supply of.
Many of the centers have programs and events as well. The Sheldrake Center in Larchmont teaches pre-school classes on site! They also host programs for Girl Scouts and offer a variety of yearly events. Everyone will be able to find something to catch their interest! Best of all, many of our counties nature centers are free of cost or ask for a minimal donation. The entire family can enjoy an outdoor day of fun for very little out of pocket.
Education Disguised As Fun
I love when my kids can learn from authentic experiences. The natural parks in our area are a great source of new hands on learning activities. If I told my kids we were going to the Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers to study Hawk Migration they would scowl and more than likely whine. However, tell them we are spending the day at a park and suddenly I’m the mom of the year!
Recently, my daughter walked through the farm at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center, reading all the signs and learning about the differences between alpacas and llamas and other fun animal facts. She then called her grandmother on the way home to proudly tell her what she had learned. Score! Learning and fun rolled into one – that’s my kind of day.
I also firmly believe that if children learn about the environment and the animals within it, they will be more likely to respect it and want to help to preserve it in the future. While walking down a hiking trail, my kids will point out trash they see and comment on how yucky it is to see that spoiling the beautiful scenery. Will they be more likely to recycle now? Will learning about an animal like a falcon that they see circling overhead help them to be champions for the endangered animals in the future? I hope so. The Greenburgh Nature Center is a great place for families to see endangered species, especially large birds and small animals that are being rehabilitated or kept on site.
I also like to let my kids play in natural spaces that don’t include playgrounds because it helps them use their imagination and creativity. Today’s children are often told how to play. If you have kids, you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, “You’re doing it wrong!” This is because many kids today are very single minded. Even Legos have directions these days!
I’m going to make myself sound really old by saying, when I was little I could play for hours with a stick, a rock and some mud. I would invent the craziest of scenarios and imagine and enjoy. As parents, we have to encourage our children to think outside of the box more, or to even throw the box away! Sit on a wooden bench and let them poke around rock crevices at the Marshlands in Rye or along the Hudson River. Let them explore the sculptures of Pepsico and imagine what they could be. Or, pick up a stick yourself and join in on the fun! Travel back in time to the days where the frontier was covered with forests and wild beasts lurked around every brush. Enjoy the time together where there are no structures and boundaries to keep your imagination constrained.
Bring a picnic lunch, a water bottle, your camera, or just your bodies and have fun together. You’ll be glad you took the time to explore some of Westchester’s best natural resources.
For a list of all the nature centers run by the county, check out this list.