During these long months that precede spring and summer, it can be a challenge to get outside for experiences in nature with our kids. This is the time of year I appreciate having structured events to give our family the extra boost we need to get outside. And luckily, there are many wonderful programs at environmental educational centers around the region to help spur us on.
1. Brightwater Center, a wastewater treatment plant in Woodinville, is on a 70-acre section of land that has been restored to native vegetation, including wetlands, meadows, and forest. There are three miles of hiking trails through bird and wildlife habitat, which are open to the public from dawn to dusk every day of the week. The Education and Community Center is open to the public from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. King County contracts with environmental educators from IslandWood to develop the programming.
Check the website for upcoming events, which might include a plant tour, World Water Day or more.
2. The Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center in Bellevue offers free nature walks every Saturday from 2–3:15 p.m. Dress for the weather and join a naturalist on a walk around the wetland. The Education Center has a small assortment of interesting natural items to touch and see, but the main draw is the Slough, with its birds and other creatures. If you want to go for a nature walk on your own, you can check out a backpack with binoculars and other tools for exploring the Slough. There is a fee of $5, and the center is open daily from 10 a..m.-4 p.m.
In addition, on one Friday a month you can come watch an environmental movie at the Center. Check out their program flier for more information on these activities. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, you can also take a guided canoe tour through the Slough.
3. Lewis Creek Park, also in Bellevue, has more programs for families. Take a nature walk on the trails on the first Saturday of every month, from 10:30-11:30 a.m. The first Fridays of every month bring story time with a craft for children 3 and up; cost is $2, and registration is required. Or join the Lewis Creek Explorer’s Club and have fun doing nature-themed activities with a ranger. In the spring, you'll find programs on frogs, butterflies and other spring topics. Get more information and find out how to register on their program brochure.
4. Seattle parks have many different programs to sign up for, as well. Many are free; some cost a small amount. All require advanced registration online or by contacting the park they are held at.
Camp Long, Discovery Park, and Carkeek all have Tot Treks and Nature Play programs for kids age 2–3 and a parent. They take place on weekdays and Saturdays and have a fee of $8 for each adult/child pair. Kids ages 8 and up can go on bird walks, owl prowls with their parents and other nifty park-exploring programs for very affordable prices. See the latest brochure to sign up.
5. Seward Park Audubon Center n Seattle has a variety of terrific programs all year, many of them free. You can take a class in birding, take a six-week Tiny Trips class with your toddler or preschooler, go on a full-moon owl prowl, or even come and pet Lumpy the Tortoise. For all of Seward Park’s programs, you can find details on their calendar. Most require preregistration online.
6. Magnuson Park in North Seattle has a robust set of nature programs that grew out of its wonderful children's garden, from monthly family wetland walks to nightly nature walks to many camps and classes. Kids can also check out an Explorer Pack for self-guided exploration of the park, including its wetlands, demonstration gardens, and children's garden.
7. Tacoma Nature Center has a wide variety of programs for families in the south end. The Pier Peer program continues through early March, where children 8 and up can come to check out sea life at the docks. In addition, the Tacoma Nature Center has monthly science classes for homeschoolers. Registration online is required for these classes.
8. Up north, Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has nature exploration programs for preschoolers and elementary aged children. There are different themes each month. Check out their online calendar to find the next classes. The Breazeale Interpretive Center is free and open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and is a worthwhile educational outing for kids of all ages. They have a floor-to-ceiling aquarium, interactive educational displays, and a room full of hands-on activities for toddlers up to elementary aged children. Kids can also do short hikes.
Photo credits in order of appearance: Jennifer Johnson, Jennifer Johnson, Elisa Murray, Tacoma Nature Center
This article was originally written in 2012 and updated in January of 2014.