One of the qualities I love most about my husband is his amazing patience.
It was especially evident during our recent vacation with our respective extended families at a Haliburton cottage. Ultimately the two weeks included fifteen adults, four kids, one surprisingly wimpy Pit Bull, one Shih Tzu, and two somewhat yippee Bichon Frise.
Both the dogs and the kids were absolutely delighted with the outdoor setting and the activities. Always safely buckled into life jackets the kids rowed, paddled, swam, explored, and chased bubbles and dragonflies until they were so tired they couldn’t see straight. One night my seven year old nephew actually asked if he could go to bed.
It warmed my heart to see my husband and his four and two year old granddaughters lying face down with their heads over the edge of the dock trying to entice the ducks to eat bread from their hands.
By the end of the holiday, in addition to having closely examining the shapes of clouds, stars, numerous bugs, leaves, creepy crawlers and squishy unknowns from the bottom of the lake, they had also trained the ducks to jump a foot out of the water to retrieve the food.
And while on some levels it was a crazy way to spend a holiday, it contributed to our desire to provide the kids not only with an opportunity to connect with family but also to experience the joy and wonder of experiences in nature.
Like the many generations that came before us, my husband and I have always had the benefit of reminders from nature. As did many other boomers, we spent hours roaming nearby fields, forests, and ponds in our respective communities.
Today things are different and there are growing concerns that a significant number of children have little or no interaction with nature. Now it’s our turn as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to do what we can to ensure kids are exposed to more nature. This, in combination with less television and more stimulating play and educational settings may go a long way toward healthier child development, reduced attention deficits, and, perhaps more importantly, increased joy in life. Their appreciation for nature will also contribute to this generation of kids becoming advocates and stewards of our environment.
While not everyone may be able to cottage in the north, there are other things we can do. Many of them are traditions we can revive from our own childhood.
Everyone will feel better just spending more time outdoors even if it is our own backyard.
Plant a garden. Even young children can get involved especially if the seeds are large enough for them to handle and you use plants that grow quickly. Teenagers or toddlers can help feed the family, share with the neighbors or donate it to a food bank. Even if you live in an apartment, a balcony or porch can often handle a few large pots, and even trees can thrive in containers if given proper care.
Think about maintaining a birdbath or perhaps replacing part of your lawn with native grasses or wildflowers. Or, plant a garden designed to attract butterflies.
Keep a terrarium, aquarium, or if you’re brave enough, an ant farm.
Encourage your kids to camp out in the backyard or to build a tree house, fort, or hut. Better yet, take your kids camping. Some of the best conversations we ever had with our three boys took place around a campfire.
Go fishing, pack a picnic or take a hike. With younger children, choose easy, short routes and prepare to stop often. Or be a stroller explorer. Some communities are starting up neighborhood stroller groups that meet for weekly nature walks.
Encourage collections. Even very young children love gathering rocks, shells, or wildflowers. As a child I remember being especially fascinated by my friend’s rock tumbler that polished the stones.
In a time where kids are often over programmed, “green hours” a time for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world will be essential. Even fifteen minutes is a good start. Whenever possible, encourage independent exploration.
Ultimately while we all will benefit by being outdoors, it will be especially important for kids. Just as children need healthy food, sufficient sleep, and regular exercise, they also need unstructured contact with nature. After all, shouldn’t every child have the experience of sleeping under the stars?
Posted on 08-03-08
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