As Richard Louv asks in his fabulous book “Last Child in the Woods”, how can we expect our children to be stewards of the environment when they have never experienced nature? In a manufactured world suburban world, where television, video games, Chuck E Cheese’s, and Jump Zones are pulling your children inside to play and veg, how do you push them back outside to experience the glory of the natural world?
When I look back at my own childhood, it is those simple experiences with nature shared with my friends and family that have had the biggest impact on my desire to preserve and care for the world. So, to instill a passion for protecting the earth in my own children, I turn to family traditions and outings – building positive experiences and memories of the natural world with my boys.
Our family tradition that we’ve done for 6 years now is to go camping in the mountains every Memorial Day Weekend. Sometimes we have a ton of friends go with us, sometimes it is just the family, but we go every year. – And yes, you can camp with little babies – even twin babies!
If you are camping a National or State Park, make sure to take advantage of all those great learning opportunities: guided nature walks, presentations by naturalists, hands-on activities at a nature center.
Nature Walks and Picnics
I love exploring nature with my children. They notice so many little things that I don’t see myself. When we go out for a hike, we always bring our picnic lunch. It’s a great opportunity to teach my boys about not leaving anything behind and making as little impact as possible. We pack up the lunch in reusable bags, use our Klean Kanteens for drinks, bring along our cloth napkins (made from old cloths), and include a bag to carry home the compostable material. We talk with the kids about each of these choices we make so they understand the impact of these choices versus the alternative on the environment. And if they see trash on the trail along the way and want to bring it home with us, I try to be supportive rather than grossed out.
I think it is important to celebrate all the nature we see in the local ecosystem along the way. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt. We try to find interesting plants, bugs, birds, and reptiles. We search for animal poop and try to discover what kind of animal made it (see a great resource “Who Pooped in the Park” series to find a local National Park version ) . Most of all, my boys like to look for bones. A little disturbing? Maybe. But, I think it makes them feel like little paleontologists.
Family Rock Climbing
I love Rock Climbing as a family. It is such a great way to experience nature together. It always involves a hike to our climbing location and a day outside with the rocks, the trees, and the dirt. We always go home tired, dirty, and happy. You can’t get that experience by going to the gym.
Gardening and Composting
One of our family routines that we started in 2008 was gardening and composting. These are two things even toddlers can help out with. They see the waste (like their banana peel) turn into fertilizer for their garden which helps the herbs and vegetables grow which ends up in their spaghetti and pizza sauce. The kids love to care for and harvest the herbs, vegetables, and flowers. They beam with pride when they can present their Nana with a sunflower that they grew themselves from seed.
And so much more….
There are so many other ways we can build positive nature experiences with our families. Pick-Your-Own berries, a trip to the pumpkin patch, a visit to the nature center, the botanical gardens, even the beach can build a greater appreciation for the natural world in our children and ourselves. This is the foundation upon which caring for the earth is built.
How do you build your own positive experiences in the natural world?
This is my submission for the February APLS Carnival on “Nature and the Environment”. The carnival will be posted February 20th at The Green Phone Booth.