Children need us . . .

10 09 2011

And not in the way that we normally hear about, although there are certainly unfortunate children who need our monetary help around the world. Today, however, I saw something that got me thinking about the one thing all children need and mostly don’t get, especially in America.

I am talking about nature role models.

As I walked in my (sub)urban townhome complex today, I spied two small children milling about a uniform patch of grass under a tree. They seemed to be searching for some fun and adventure in that dull spot, as they restlessly combed the grass together. I heard their parents loudly talking through the open townhouse door nearby.

What those children need is a parent, relative or family friend to show them the fun, the adventure, the curiosities and surprises they seek. I see this often, especially so close to a city, where the suburb is really just an extension of urban nature exclusion. In homogenizing our environments for comfort, we have sterilized them of the things children intuitively know they need.

So, the next time you are around children listlessly searching for that experience they can’t define; the next time they seem antsy or declare, “I’m bored,” take them outside  and play, even if all you have is a dull patch of grass.  Look at every bug and interesting leaf. Let the children lead – they just need an adult to be excited along with them. The future of our world is, in that moment, in your own capable hands.

Autumn Pastimes

17 11 2010
Macro pinecone

Image via Wikipedia

If you grew up in a temperate region, you had leaves falling at this time of year. Do you remember jumping in the leaves? Do you remember raking up the leaves into the biggest pile you could, only for the reward of jumping headlong into their earthy mystery?

Perhaps you didn’t have leaves, but you loved collecting pine cones.  You’d bring them inside and show an adult, as proud as if you had made them yourself. Or maybe  you played football every Thanksgiving, reveling in the crisp air and muddy ground.

Harvest time, no matter where you live, has magical powers. If you don’t believe this,  you may need to spend more time remembering how it used to be. Once you’ve done that, pick an activity and help encourage a child who may not know what wonders await outside, even as the days grow shorter.

Rake the leaves, even if you know you’ll have to do it again later. Glue some leaves together into beautiful placemats. Pick up the pine cones, and proudly display them on your Thanksgiving mantle. Head out for some football and return, out of breath, with rosy cheeks.

Seasonal pastimes are as close as your memories.

Green 2.0: Cultivating Memories

24 09 2010
Panorama of the Iguazu waterfalls from Bresil

Image via Wikipedia

We can re-write history. Of course, we cannot change what has happened in our lives, but we can cultivate the good by cherishing those memories and keeping their spirit alive. We can do this by seeking similar experiences.

Do you have a memory – perhaps related to your simplest pleasures – of a blissful or interesting nature experience? I use both words because if you don’t feel easily drawn to nature, you may not have had a blissful experience, but you surely had an interesting one along the way. You can transform even a somewhat negative experience – like being lost and scared in the woods – by focusing on the interesting aspects of it. Were there mysterious sounds? Intriguing smells? Did following your curiosity get you lost in the first place? Recapture what led you there.

Research shows that people who grow up to feel passionate about conserving nature tend to have had a transformative childhood experience outdoors. In other words, they had a moment of wonder and awe, of feeling impressed by the beauty, wholeness and vastness of the world. If you can dig into your past and remember a time you felt this, you can seek out these experiences again. If you never had a chance, go seek it now. Simply be outside, be open, and awe will find you.

I support you in your adventure!

Studies Show: Dirt Really Doesn’t Hurt

28 01 2009

A New York Times article demonstrates what the best moms already know: playing in dirt, making mud pies, and getting a little filthy are healthy habits for developing children. Ongoing studies of the hygiene hypothesis–that our clean-obsessed culture is related to the rise in certain diseases–suggest that coming in contact with the microbes and even worms in soil and other natural environments (like pets) is essential to developing a hearty immune system and warding off autoimmune diseases and allergies down the line.

With the alarming rise in illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as what led to the death of a Brazilian model recently, I think we need no further reasons to drop the anti-bacterial soaps, dishwashing liquids, and hand sanitizers. In the article, Dr. Mary Ruebush, author of “Why Dirt is Good,” advises alcohol-based sanitizers, which are widely available. She adds, however, that the best thing to do is to wash less!

“The typical human probably harbors some 90 trillion microbes,” she wrote. “The very fact that you have so many microbes of so many different kinds is what keeps you healthy most of the time.”

Kids and Nature: What Really Counts

21 07 2008

Since I wrote about Growing Nature-Loving Kids, I have become aware of an entire movement spurred by Richard Louv’s powerful treatise on the necessity of getting children into the outdoors. The author himself is chair of the Children & Nature Network, a network of regional groups dedicated to the cause. Several states have issued proclamations and plans to move kids outside during school, free time, and family time. The National Wildlife Federation is promoting a daily “Green Hour” of outdoor play. In short, it seems like everyone is jumping on this very worthy bandwagon.

I believe the reduction or elimination of recess and the increased structuring of children’s extracurricular time is a serious issue, along with childhood obesity and the widening gap between kids’ perceptions and the reality of the natural world. That is why I take great heart in these developments, the rallying to a call for more green childhoods. But I think we might lose the quintessential part in all the pomp.

If we are not careful, we will begin structuring this green time to the extent that children do not have the chance to learn from nature and experience the thrill and spiritual awakening that free exploration and natural wonders can provide. The most important point in all of the emerging research on the ill effects of nature deprivation seems to be that kids must be kids in the most kid-friendly environment there is, and that is the outdoors. No where else can a child have all the limitless variables with which to play, experiment, invent, dream, learn, and ponder. Indoor environments will always be contrived and lacking in comparison.

And so the most important thing that anyone–parents, relatives, teachers, mentors and friends–can do for a child is to get him or her outside for some genuine, unstructured, free and fun play. Who knows? The adults might realize that they needed the same thing, all along.

Growing Nature-Loving Kids

13 04 2008

In Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (2005), Richard Louv suggests that children’s shrinking outdoor playtimes are harming their physical and emotional health. He cautions that this lack of memorable childhood experiences in nature may cost us our future environmental advocates. Whether you are a family that regularly spends time outdoors, or you barely set foot beyond your screened-in porch during the dog days of summer, try for a more fulfilling outdoor experience this year. Here are five tips on enhancing everyone’s wonder and fun in the world outside:

1. Put down the video game/TV/AC controller. A little-old-fashioned guilt-trip is especially needed in our technologically-saturated times. Tell your kids, “Don’t waste the summer away inside—winter will be here before you know it!” Then, whether that works or not, go outside with them. The best way to nurture nature-loving kids is by being one yourself. You might even get more work done on the garden—or on your best summer read—than you thought possible this year.

2. Scour the internet or library books for easy nature activities, and try one out next time the “I’m bored!” chorus resounds. A few “wow” moments may be all it takes before they warm up to the great outdoors.

3. Pitch the idea of a science-themed summer camp. Everyone wins with this one: they find non-tech ways to enjoy their youth, make new friends, and have a summer to remember. You have more time for, well, you.

4. Visit state and national parks for your summer trips, and be sure to stop by the visitor and nature centers, which offer free exhibits, informational materials, and (often) interactive nature programs and experiences led by park staff. Check out what’s on offer when planning your trip by visiting the park’s web site.

5. Catch the fever and share it with your kids. Get them involved in gardening with small tasks that allow opportunities for watching wildlife and learning about how plants grow. Visit nearby public gardens, arboretums, natural history or children’s museums and environmental learning centers. Go hiking on summer afternoons. The bottom line: your children really want to emulate you, so if you’re not having fun, chances are they won’t, either. Show your children that loving nature has its own exciting rewards, and then watch the awe unfold.

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