Joyfully Exploring Nature with Littles Leading the Way


Does the idea of exploring nature with littles leading the way make you sweat? You’re not alone! Lots of parents prefer leading to following; however, when we gift our children the chance to lead, we empower them to be confident and independent. The first warm and sunny days of spring are magical. Birds singing, wildflowers blooming, shedding coats and maybe even socks and shoes, making mudpies…there is so much to explore, inspire and invigorate us! And it’s even more incredible to witness through children’s eyes. 

The 1000 shades of green, endless discoveries of animals making nests and homes, eggs of all sizes and shapes… These sights amaze me but they absolutely enthrall my children. That’s because we are all so deeply connected to the natural world. Every one of us benefits from spending time outdoors.

Need a good reason (other than it feels good!) to head outdoors and explore nature?

Spending time in nature…

…Reduces stress, supports creativity and problem solving, improves social relations and self-discipline, enhances cognitive abilities and academic performance, reduces Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) symptoms, increases physical activity and improves eyesight (from


 Our top 3 Favorite Spring Spots for Exploring Nature

Do you have a favorite Spring spot for exploring nature? Leave a comment and let us know! My family’s top three FREE spots to visit in the spring are:

  1. Audubon’s Woodend Nature Sanctuary – Chevy Chase, MD

Woodend is a hidden gem inside the beltway where my children love having the freedom to run and explore. There are 40 acres of meadows, woods, gardens, a pond and more to discover and it’s never the same place twice. We play for hours building fairy homes, climbing trees, balancing on logs, and finding animal hideouts. There is even a cute little shop perfect for kids’ birthday presents. Pro tip: they have awesome Theo chocolate bars for an afternoon pick-me-up! Audubon has nature programs and activities for all ages. Our family especially loves their Nature Preschool and Forest Kindergarten during the week and their free “Weekend Walks in the Woods” the first Saturday of every month. Mr. Frank, the volunteer master naturalist leader, is one of my boys’ favorite human beings. 

  1. Brookside Gardens and Nature Center – Wheaton, MD

We could go to Brookside Gardens and Nature Center every day and my kids would never complain. Walking through the gorgeous winding gardens and trails as well as around the huge pond (so many turtles!) offers new and exciting sightings every time we visit. In spring, look closely in the murky waters for frog and toad eggs. The Nature Center offers awesome child and family-friendly programs and has a sweet playroom with naturalized materials, costumes, props and more. Another highlight: seeing turtles, frogs, snakes and even a salamander up close in the animal habitat area.

  1. National Arboretum – Washington, D.C.

The number of flowering trees in the D.C. area is staggering and there are few places more tranquil, peaceful, and beautiful to enjoy them than the National Arboretum. Picnicking there in the Spring with first the azaleas and then while the lilacs are blooming is a favorite tradition for our family. And the photo ops are ridiculously awesome. We often bring our bikes and trikes along because the road is rarely busy and it’s a fun way to explore the grounds.

OK, we’re outside! Now what?

Most importantly, follow your child’s lead. Seriously! Let your child lead the way and follow along without offering any directions. Watching and observing my children in nature is just about my favorite activity in the universe. What do they notice today? What makes their eyes widen? How will they stretch themselves and take risks? There are endless ways to enjoy yourself and while your children are exploring outdoors. Hot tip: put your phone in airplane mode so you can use the camera and check the time without getting distracted by incoming messages. Here are 101 ways from Edventures with Kids to get you started!

Go ahead, get dirty!

There is a direct correlation between how dirty a child gets while playing and how happy they report feeling! When exploring nature, encourage your kiddo to get their hands and bodies and booties muddy, their feet wet and discover all of nature’s miracles in the spring. Also, it’s always helpful to have a change of clothes (yes, even extra shoes), snacks and water to keep littles smiling and energized for adventures. 


We can’t wait to hear about your springtime adventures.

Leave us a comment about where you love to splash and play in the DC area. Most of all, have the best time following your littles into nature!


  1. Love, love, love seeing children growing up in nature! So many cognitive, physical and emotional benefits to being outside at Woodend Nature Sanctuary – not to mention the joy of mud!

  2. Summer camps at Woodend are great! The best part? Kids have so much fun, and learn about nature and the environment without realizing it.

  3. We love all the places Steph mentioned, but also enjoyed walking on the Mall, checking out the many gardens–Sackler, National Gallery outdoor sculpture garden and inner courtyard garden, the Tidal Basin, the many small gardens that seem to pop up from native plant gardens to beds full of tulips. Oh, and of course the trails in Rock Creek Park and along Sligo.

  4. Great article! On the Virginia side, Huntley Meadows is a wonderful gem. We’ve seen owls, beavers, turtles, frogs, and countless flora as well. It’s about 3 miles Southeast of Old Town Alexandria, but seems so secluded from urban life when you’re deep inside the park.

  5. Helpful article with good reminders! Our daughter loves Woodend and the Audubon Nature School. It has been a great place for her to make friends and catalyze curiosity. Our family recently relocated from the West Coast, and we’re so happy to have wonderful resources like ANS in our backyards. It makes the pain of no longer having the North Cascades and Olympic Mountains framing my days a little less acute 🙂

  6. Great article, Steph! So enjoyed reading it. Would love for you to bring your littles to SC for exploring fun. Aunt Pat

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