My childhood was filled with nature. I was raised in Georgia with a creek in my backyard. My mom brought us to many green places and special nature spots. She left lots of time for creative outdoor play. I grew up climbing trees, catching tadpoles, and avoiding water moccasins.
In my adolescent years I was part of a Venture Crew and learned how to canoe, sail, repel, camp, hike, waterski, fish, and more. My family chose outdoor time together over almost everything else. We visited the beach, the fair, the apple orchards, the mountains, campgrounds, and pools. Being engaged with nature is, well, second nature to me.
I assumed that being engaged with nature was still the norm for kids today. After reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, I realized this wasn’t so for many kids today. My childhood may have been one of the last epic ones.
I then read more (what else is new?) about nature and was horrified by many of the stats in Angela Hanscom’s Barefoot and Balanced. Richard Louv coined the phrase nature-deficit disorder to describe the ill effects an absence of nature has on human beings. Hanscom took it even further to delve into the many issues children today develop because of lack of time outdoors: inability to concentrate, aggression, low muscle tone, sensory processing issues, emotional disregulation, and the list goes on.
While I was crossing creeks and creating forts out of fallen branches I was unaware of the ways my brain and body were growing and developing. Now that I know the time I spent outdoors picking clover and watching birds had such tremendous impact on who I am today, I am all the more anxious for my child (and all our children) to reap these benefits.
Reasons for lack of nature experience for today’s children reach far and wide: location, time, interest, access, etc. We are a busy nation with lots of school and work and extra curricular activities, and time in nature is not a priority.
So how to overcome the difficulties and preserve nature time for our children?
It must begin with us. Scott Sampson writes, “When all is said and done, if you don’t value nature, it’s highly unlikely that your children will get it. Conversely, if you model this behavior [marvel at nature’s wonders, seek to deepen awareness and connection to nature], the kids in your life are likely to follow, to see value in nature as well.”
His book, How to Raise a Wild Child, is a great place to start for practical ideas on how to incorporate nature into your life and your children’s lives. His four best nature mentoring tips are: start noticing nature, explore local nature (think: your yard, your neighborhood park), visit your local nature institutions (think gardens, zoos, forests), and seek out nature-related media (they’ve found that even watching videos of beaches or animals in the wild is beneficial).
I found some fabulous inspiration in Keeping a Nature Journal. A nature journal helps with attention to the world around us. My daughter is a little young for one yet, but I’ve been practicing with my own so I’ll gain experience (desperately need some for my drawing skills) and a practical example for her.
I’ve always known that I want my daughter to love being outdoors, too. I want to teach her about animals and bugs and birds. I want her to learn outdoor skills that translate into interesting activities for family time. I want her to experience many beautiful places in our world.
I just didn’t realize that I would need to be so intentional about it.
I sort of thought that it would just happen the way it did for me. Now I see that, for one, my mother was intentional about making sure we had nature time as children. I’m also living in a more northern climate than I was when I was a child, so I’d gladly stay indoors for four months out of the year, but that isn’t good for either of us. We also live on a busier street with a smaller backyard, which means we’ll have to do a bit more seeking sometimes.
So, this is what we’re going to do! I’m reading more books to gain ideas and inspiration (this one is next on my list!). I’m also working hard to combat the winter blues (thankfully this week we had a few random warm days and we hit the playgrounds and parks hard!). I’m planning adventures at different nature spots and lots of free play outdoors. My goal is for us to love nature and to thrive in the time we spend outdoors.
I’m hoping to share some Nature Notes each month with ways we’ve been incorporating nature into our lives. I’d love to hear your ideas–how do your children engage with nature? Do you have to work at it or does it come naturally (haha) to you?