Brainstorm Follow-up: Reconnecting Black People to Nature is Key


Brainstorm Notes

Some Black people think that outdoor activities are strictly the domain of White people.

This was a key finding from a brainstorm session at 100State where we addressed the question, “How can we get more children of color outdoors?”

Participants identified barriers and solutions to getting more children of color outdoors.

Thank you to the following organizations for your participation. Fitchburg City Council, Dane County Parks, Aldo Leopold Nature Center, Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership, Madison Notes, WHOA, Black Women’s Wellness Foundation, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and others.


  1. Lack of connections to the outdoors. 

    Some Black youth (and adults) dismiss outdoor activities saying, “That’s just for white people.” While no one is suggesting that everyone must like the outdoors, it is important for youth to have choices. Participants want youth to be open to outdoor activities before making decisions about their value.

  2. Many Black youth and parents fear the woods.

    One participant said, “Many African-Americans will be initially hesitant to venture out into unfamiliar or remote places unless assured that it’s safe for them and their children and that the people in surrounding areas/towns are friendly. Part of our historical memory deals with extreme violence and danger in the wilderness (lynchings/torture/fleeing slavery and violence at great danger).”

  3. Transportation can also be a barrier.

    Local parks are great, but getting further away from the city can be a challenge for families.


  1. Reconnect to Nature: 

    One person said, “Nature and the outdoors is deeply embedded in the DNA of people descended from Africa. Historically, we are no strangers to the outdoors. Prior to mass migration to urban areas in the 1920’s-60’s for work and to escape the racial violence and lack of opportunity in the south, African-Americans largely lived in rural areas, were farmers and agriculturalists and had strong ties to the land, nature, and wilderness. This is part of our collective memory. We just have to re-spark it. Further, before the transatlantic slave trade that brought millions of Africans to the Americas…we as African people had mastered the toughest of wildernesses on our Mother continent. So again – it’s in our DNA – we’re just a few generations removed from the experience.”

  2. Be Culturally Relevant: What this means is providing activities that celebrate the Blackness of the outdoors. Making youth and adults aware of the many Black outdoor and environmental leaders is a good place to start. Stories about the Buffalo Soldiers, Shelton JohnsonJames Edward Mills, John Francis, Matthew Henson, Rue Mapp, Carolyn Finney, Will Allen and others must be told to Black youth and to all people. Black history is everyone’s history. These stories will inspire youth to try outdoor activities and to picture themselves doing things that they once thought were ‘just for white people.’
  3. Work with families: One participant shared that, “Too often organizations only work with kids. When, if you work with the parents, the children will follow.”
  4. Provide transportation: The participants of the brainstorm thought that providing a bus would help people take part in events. Transportation always helps, especially if parents are on a tight budget. They coined the term “Nature bus” and envisioned a bus that would travel around town to pick up kids and families for outdoor adventures.

Thank you again those that participated in the brainstorm session. I will be incorporating these ideas into my business plan. The business will be called Outdoors123 and be dedicated to getting children and families of color outdoors.

To read more about people of color and the outdoors, here are three articles and two books book that will help you think deeper about this topic.
Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, ‘Like Me on Facebook,’ and share this article.

This land is ours: African Americans should claim their place in the great outdoors


by Carolyn Finney


by James Edward Mills


Get Kids Outside: A fashion geek’s guide to enjoying winter


Make cold weather play a family tradition by learning to dress for the weather. You’ll be warm and dry if you follow these tips.

The best way to get kids outside is to get out there with them.

So enough with the excuses.

Here are my time-tested tricks to not only surviving, but enjoying even the coldest of winter weather. Kids do not care how you look so neither should you.

1) Parka with a fur-lined hood: There is a difference between a parka and a coat. A parka is a coat, but a coat is not necessarily a parka.

A parka usually has a hood, large pockets and ample length to cover your backside. If you sit down, you should be able to sit on your coat. Parkas also zip up high on the neck to keep out the wind.  I like this coat from Lands End because the hood has a faux fur-lined trim. The hood adds warmth and the fur shields the face from wind and blowing snow. At under $100, I would buy this parka again. The other coat shown is my “camping coat.” It’s a 30-year-old coat by Wilderness Experience that has stood the test of time. It’s a warm and washable coat that is fun to get smoky. Always keep a mud coat handy for these kinds of outings.


A triple threat: Balaclava, headband and blaze orange Stormy Kromer. It’s important to keep you face, head and ears covered on cold days. Sunglasses protect your eyes and sunscreen will moisturize and protect your skin

2) Balaclava
In extreme conditions, I wear a balaclava, a gladiator inspired piece of clothing that keeps your face and neck warm.

My balaclava is light weight and made of silk, which works best for me. I don’t like something bulky on my head. They range in price from $12-$30 and come in many colors, fabrics and weights. Pick the one you like. Neck warmers and scarves also work just fine as face protectors.

3) Wind proof pants with Base Layer
Warm and dry legs are critical to outdoor comfort. I just upgraded my legwear to a pair of REI WinterFlyte pants for men. At just $40 you can’t beat the price. Why men’s?  Three reasons: 1) They were on sale, 2) they have pockets, and 3) they fit. REI does make them in women’s sizes, but they don’t have pockets. Go figure. Before the upgrade, I wore nylon wind pants over a pair of synthetic long johns or running tights. This worked for me for years.  Flannel lined pants also work well and are very cozy to wear.

Underneath the WinterFlyte’s, I wear a pair of polyester and lycra blend long underwear. Polyester keeps you dry and wicks away sweat while the lycra stretches for comfort. Starting at about $25 a pair, they are an inexpensive must-have item. I got mine at REI, but you get them anywhere. Retailers brand their version of polyester into fancy names like Capilene (Patagonia), Climatesmart (Cuddleduds) and Hyactive (NorthFace). Go with what you can afford and what feels nice. Oh, and you’ll need a base layer on top too.

If you’re going sledding, you will need something to keep your butt dry. I wear a pair of rain paints over the above mentioned pants and long johns. The rain pants don’t breathe, but they’re fine for one hour of sledding, which is about how long it takes before someone gets hurt and you have to come in anyway.

4) Gloves vs Mittens

If my fingers get cold, I am miserable, so keeping my hands warm is a top priority. In the photo on the right, I am wearing an inexpensive insulated glove I picked up at Dick’s Sporting Goods for about $30. However, they did not keep my hands warm enough so I quickly replaced them with a pair of large men’s Burton Profile mittens at Dick’s for $39. In this case, I chose men’s because it was the only pair of mittens in the store and I needed them for a trip the next day. They have proven to be quite warm and I’d buy them again. Women, don’t be afraid to shop in the men’s department. The same is true for men. You may find the right fit in a different department.

5)  Boots
For my money, nothing beats the classic Caribou boot by Sorel. I have tried many boots and these are by far the warmest boots I have ever owned. I can wear thick wool socks in these boots and my feet have plenty of room to breathe and move. The liner is replaceable which means that I will get sick of these boots before they wear out. The only draw back is that they are clunky and therefore are not the best choice for snowshoeing and walking longer distances. If I decide to get into snowshoeing, I’ll wear a different boot.

4406) Socks

Smartwool, or one of the many knockoffs, are the only socks to buy. Smartwool is a wool and lycra blend that keeps your feet warm and washes well without losing its shape. I own the REI version of Smartwool and like them a lot. I’ve been told, however, that once you buy the Smartwool brand you will never go back. They come in great colors and they last longer, so they’re worth the extra cost…or so I’m told. You can pick up socks for about $15 a pair.

7) Sun and Skin protection 

The sun is still out in the winter so protect your eyes with sunglasses and your skin with sun screen. In extreme cold and winter, I put vasoline on my cheeks and lips just prior to heading out. This really helps the skin retain moisture on cold days.

toe-warmers8) Hand and Toe Warmers 
I used to think it was cheating to use air-activated hand and toe warmers, but not anymore. I use them for skating and for outdoor activities where I’ll be standing around. I’ve always had cold hands and feet, so it makes sense to have a few of these on hand, just in case. Pop a few packs in the car too. I bought mine at Farm and Fleet for 79 cents each and I have no regrets.

Let me know how you stay warm in winter. Share you favorite gear and tips.

You can find Diane leading cross-country ski outings at Blackhawk Ski Club with kids or skating at Tenny Park with friends. She’s getting ready for a trip to the Porcupine Mountains where she plans on skiing her heart out. 

“Quit while they’re still kicking” or when to know it’s time to leave

Learning to skate with walkers helps kids gain confidence.

One of the best pieces of teaching advice I ever got was “Quit while they’re still kicking.”
At first, I didn’t get it.
Why quit if the kids are still having fun?
Turns out, there’s an art to knowing when to end an activity.

Here’s a case in point.
I went skating on Monday with my 5- and 6-year-old nieces and their mother at Hartmeyer Ice Arena. It was the girls’ first time on skates and I thought they did really well.

They used walkers at first and then graduated to skating on their own. Sure, they fell down a lot, but they seemed to enjoy it…at first. After about an hour of skating, the novelty wore off and they grew tired of falling.

Tears came shortly thereafter. I suggested to their mother that it may be time to leave, but the girls objected. They stayed a bit longer and the whining increased as the kids grew more and more tired. Then, they wanted to go.

While it is very difficult to leave while kids are still having fun, I find that it’s always better to leave them wanting more. Forty-five minutes to an hour is plenty for a first time activity. Then, the next time, they’ll be excited to go again.

Let me know how you decide when enough is enough.

Kids learn to enjoy winter at Indian Lake County Park

Even without snow, the kids made use of the sledding hill.

Lou and his mother didn’t look too happy as we gathered at 9 a.m. on a cold, December morning for a trip to Indian Lake County Park.

“I had my doubts,” mom admitted. But she showed up anyway along with 30 others. At the end of the day, they were all smiles and glad they came.

Despite the lack of snow and 10 degree temps, the kids found lots of ways to stay warm and have fun. Plus, Indian Lake is a drop-dead gorgeous park. The sunny, blue skies formed a perfect back drop for limitless outdoor fun:

– Kids ran, slid and rolled down a frost covered sledding hill.

– Kids played on a huge pile of wood. They turned the wood pile into a fort, a mountain or just a neat place to climb. They killed off space aliens, played soldier games and lots more.

– Kids played with sticks, the best toys ever.

– Kids examined beautiful frost crystals that coated the ground.

Sticks are the best toys ever. Note the lack of mittens.

– Kids helped build a fire.

– Kids played football and kicked around a ball.

– Kids hiked up the hill to see a historic chapel.

– Kids ate hot dogs and hot chocolate.

But mostly, the kids learned that sometimes it’s important to get up and go even if it’s cold. Parents set the example. Unfortunately, about 15 kids missed out because their parents cancelled.

We forget how warm kids get when they run around. No matter how many times we asked kids to put their hats on, most didn’t listen and took them off anyway. Go figure. Kids just don’t react to cold the same way as adults.

Winter is a great time to get outside. It’s important to help parents and kids learn how to enjoy the winter.

How do you respond to fears about cold weather? 

Playing football in the morning sun. Again, no mittens. Are they crazy?

Show don’t tell: Giving kids the gift of observation

What you do in the outdoors is more important than what you say.

Show them how to observe by being an active observer.

Show them with your enthusiasm and excitement about the world.

Show them by asking questions and encouraging questions.

And most of all, show them by being fearless.

This is the greatest gift you can give kids.

So what do you do when you have fear or your kids want to explore something that makes your skin crawl, like insects?

First relax. Insects are fun to watch and most are harmless. Then, try this simple activity.

Lift a log or a rock and ask: What are they doing? What do they look like?  Put your find in a jar and ask: Can you see their mouth parts? Their legs?  What colors do you see? What do you think they eat?  Use online resources like this simple activity guide. Give them a clipboard and ask them to draw what they see. If you don’t know something, you can look it up with the kids.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but we can find out.”

Show them how to learn and you will create curious, life-long learners.

And what could be better than that?

Have fun out there and tell me about your experiences with kids in the outdoors.
How do you overcome fear?

Cave of the Mounds: A great escape from protesting or anything else

Once again, a major protest at the State Capitol coincided with one of my outings.  I have to say that I was happy to be heading away from town. Protesting is noble, but it distracts me from what I love. For me, the best thing to do is to continue my work with kids and parents despite the chaos swirling around me.

It’s times like this when we need nature more than ever. We need to get away from the media and remember what’s really important. We need to be reminded of how beautiful our state is and it’s many natural wonders. We need to go to places right in our own backyards, like Cave of the Mounds, and experience one of those wonders.

Just 30 minutes from Madison, Cave of the Mounds remains a classic day trip. If you haven’t been there, it’s time to pack up the kids and go.

Cave "bacon" forms when calcite-rich water follows the contour of the cave ceiling forming drapery-like curtains. Note also the tiny stalactites.

The cave tour lasts about 1 hour and took us past beautiful cave formations: stalactites – or stalagnotites as Joan called them –  hang from the ceiling; stalagmites – or stalagnomites – grow from the ground up. There’s cave “bacon” that looks… well… like bacon and classic formations like Polly the Parrot.

There’s no better place to get a sense of geologic time and the power of water. Water drips from the ceiling adding ever so slowly to the ‘mites and  ‘tites.

Polly the Parrot formed when two stalactites dropped on top of a stalagmite, fusing them together into a parrotlike shape.

The cave promotes wonder and we all need that, especially when the world gets turned upside down.

I had just one small complaint. Just before leaving to eat our lunch, a staff member asked me to let her know if while eating we spilled anything on the chairs. I thought this was odd. Did she think we going to leave a mess?  I don’t know. Other than that, our tour guides were informative and courteous, and of course, the cave never disappoints.

What are your favorite natural escapes within 30 minutes from home?

Diane Schwartz is busy getting ready for summer at the Goodman Community Center. Five new folding bikes will arrive soon and she can’t wait to start teaching kids how to safely ride around town. As always, subscribe to this blog now to receive a free 11-page bubble activity guide. Thank you for reading.

Bad Van Behavior Kills Ski Fun

What is fun? Cross Country Skiing

What kills fun? Driving a 15-passenger-van full of kids, three of which are  fighting in the back.

Last week Thursday was the first day of ski lessons and everything was going great: the trip to Blackhawk Ski Club went well; the kids loved skiing; and the weather was perfect.

And then we got in the van to go home.

Joan started talking trash and couldn’t keep her mouth shut. To make things worse, her brother and another girl egged her on.

Things got so loud I had to pull over and sort things out. I split up Joan and her brother which meant displacing two other kids who were acting fine. I hate this.

Being a teacher is tough sometimes. I want to have fun with the kids, but I also have to be safe and take action when necessary. I’ll talk to the kids and parents and make sure they understand behavior expectations and the consequences. Right now, I’m thinking that if behavior results in pulling over the van, then the children involved will be removed from lessons. This may sounds harsh, but when it comes to safety, I’m not going to mess around. Besides, most of the kids are fine.  It’s not fair to the others to allow this kind of behavior.

One thing is clear, if I don’t take action, it will be a very long 8 weeks.

I’ll let you know what happens after this week’s lesson.

What are you doing to help kids with behavior issues? What works? What doesn’t? How do you decide when to remove children from an activity?

Diane Schwartz is an Outdoor Education Teacher at Goodman Community Center in Madison, Wisconsin. She is also the Site Coordinator at Schumacher Farm County Park in Waunakee. Register for this blog now and receive your free 11-page Bubble Activity Guide.  Thank you for visiting.

Cross Country Skiing with Kids: Final Reflection

Last Thursday, was the last of our eight week ski lessons at Blackhawk Ski Club. It was a beautiful sunny day in the 30s. Perfect. Molly, the instructor had the kids go through a series of games. They skied through hula hoops, played red light green light, and picked up candy on the trail while going downhill. They liked the candy pick-up the best.

I was very proud of these kids. After eight weeks, they were going down hills and skiing with confidence. They could snowplow, stop and start again, and not get flustered by wiping out. It was gratifying to see this.

We started with 13 kids and ended with 9.  Our sole 5-year-old quit after the fourth week. Next year, perhaps we’ll not have little ones do the course. One fifth grader kept saying she was sick, but she wasn’t. I think she struggled because of her weight.  Watching her, I noticed it was difficult for her get up and stay up on skis. The other fifth grader quit after her third grader sister quit. They quit for no specific reason. They just said, “I don’t want to go anymore.” This was very disappointing. There is so much to learn from sticking with something.

For example, one boy was in tears about half way through the program and wanted to quit. He cried, he pouted and he wailed. He called his Mom and begged her to let him quit. Anyone listening would have been sure this kid was being tortured. His mom didn’t yield. I’m glad. He was one happy kid on the last day. He couldn’t stop smiling even when he fell down. The next day, he came up to me as said, “Hi Miss Diane.”  He face was glowing. He was so happy. I was so happy for him.  He learned more than how to ski, but how to finish something he started. He learned how to persevere and reap the rewards of completion. In addition, everyone learned how play outside in really cold weather. They learned about the “other” side of town–the west side. They experienced the culture of cross-country skiing and now have access to a sport which is primarily practiced by middle to upper middle class white folks. (Of the 13 kids who started the course, 5 were African-American, 7 white and 1 mixed. I don’t know income levels).  They met new people and even a blind dog named Izzy.  But most of all, they learned the fun of skiing.

I saw that on Thursday. The kids didn’t care about wiping out. They loved it. They went downhill with confidence, or fell, got up and tried it again.  It was a very satisfying day and one that makes teaching worth it. My hope is that they will keep skiing as adults. Time will only tell.

Next up.. hiking and biking. We have a bon fire planned on March 26th at Picnic Point. A few days later, we’ll be going to the MacKenzie Wildlife Center to learn about maple syrup harvesting.

Stay tuned.

Where is Your Coat?

coldthermometerWe’ve had a cold October in Wisconsin. Last weekend it was about 40 degrees at the start of our hike to Parfrey’s Glen Natural Area. I was dressed in a wind breaker, a neck warmer, hat, gloves and hiking boots. So, when the first kids showed up without none of the above I had to ask, “Where’s your coat?”

“I’ll be okay,” Joan responded. “I don’t get cold,” her brother cheerfully replied. She had on a sweater. He came dressed in shorts and a light jacket.

I told them that they needed to get a coat and that it was colder than they think outside. While I couldn’t do anything about the shorts, his mom did have coats (with hoods) in the car. Other kids had a hat and mittens but no coat. Still others had a coat but no hat and mittens. Fortunately, we keep a stock of mittens and hats at the Center. After handing out some items, I stuffed a few extra pairs in my backpack, just in case the kids change their mind.

Dressing for the weather is a big part of learning to be in the outdoors. Truth is, most kids go from the car or bus to school and home and rarely spend any time outside at all. Recess is just 15 minutes and they don’t venture out on really cold days. Some kids simply don’t think it’s cool to wear hats and coats. Schools also have to be careful about cold because many kids do not have the proper attire. Schools now routinely close when temperatures are below a certain mark. They simply can’t risk having some child outside in bitter temperatures who isn’t dressed properly.

When we got to Parfrey’s Glen the winds were brisk and two kids asked for hats. A mom volunteer asked for mittens. I’m glad I had some extras, but then again, perhaps they would have learned more if they’re ears were a little cold. After all, it wasn’t below zero, it was a brisk 48 degrees.

If the other underdressed kids were cold they didn’t complain, though one boy took his arms out of this coat sleeves to preserve heat. I could tell he was cold, though.  I have yet to fully understand this undressing thing. Why would someone intentionally want to be cold?  I’m pretty sure the parents told them to put on more a warmer coat, but maybe not.

As we walked and got into the woods, the kids did warm up. The kids who had on more clothes, peeled off a few layers.  They learned that it’s better to have it and have to take it off, then not have it and freeze.

bundledupkidsI’m not sure how to instill the dress code for these outdoor adventures. When it’s really cold, we require that kids wear snow pants or we provide snow pants to those who don’t have them. For fall weather however, it’s a little trickier. The day started out sunny and it looked warm. I think that fooled parents and the kids into thinking that it was warmer outside.

Before the trip, I reminded parents to “dress for the weather.” Perhaps, I need to provide a list of specific things to wear before the trip. This may not guarantee compliance, but at least I’m doing more to ensure that no one gets cold. I will no longer assume that parents know what “dress for the weather” means. Just like math and English, dressing for outdoor fun needs to be taught if we want kids and parents to enjoy spending time outside.