Today I’m sharing something near and dear to my heart: how and why we should all be raising children who not only enjoy being in nature but who also respect and care for it. I grew up in a small rural town in southern New Hampshire. By the time I was seven we had horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and five acres of yard and woods to explore. I spent the vast majority of my youth playing outside and learning how to care for our animals. Catching toads and small snakes with my sister or friends are some of my sweetest memories. My fingernails were rarely clean and my feet were always dirty. It was a childhood rich with sights, sounds and smells that only nature can provide. There is no TV program or iPhone app that can even come close to replacing the profound place nature holds in a child’s life.
I am of the mindset that we are born curious and full of wonder when it comes to the natural world. Our parents either foster that curiosity or they don’t. Without parents who are also in awe of nature and see it as an important teaching tool, children grow into adults who most likely go through life with an apathetic attitude toward not only the environment but the animals who inhabit it. I can’t think of anything less natural than a human being who is uninterested in connecting with nature!
Sadly, studies continue to show that kids are spending less and less time outside and more and more time indoors, behind screens. What’s even more sad is that we now know just how important nature is to childhood development. The benefits of exploring the boundaries of our natural world as well as the boundaries of our imaginations are infinite. And the responsibility to raise children who appreciate and care about nature rests on our shoulders as parents. I was amazed a few months ago when talking to another mom who told me her son “Just isn’t interested in animals.” She shrugged as if this was a common personality trait among children, much to my horror. I’ve met other moms who simply don’t place a lot of emphasis on being outdoors with their kids, and other moms who don’t want to get their hands dirty or simply have lost the sense of wonder that keeps us interested in learning about the natural world.
I want to say this to those moms: When you foster environmental consciousness in your children, you invest in our future and theirs. When you allow your children to get messy in the dirt, flip rocks and logs to find creatures, sift through tide pools, climb trees, run, fall, play and just BE in nature, you are giving them a gift that will help sustain childhood joy and wonderment throughout their lives. Teach them to be gentle with other living creatures. Let them be caretakers of an animal so that they see beyond themselves a little. There is a quote I love: “We cannot think too highly of nature, nor too humbly of ourselves.” (Charles Caleb Colton) Show them how small we are in this big amazing world, but that each one of us can make a difference when we are compassionate and respectful of nature.
Some of our favorite places to be in nature are local parks (Waveny Park, Cherry Lawn Park, The New Canaan Nature Center, Darien Nature Center and Stamford Nature Center), local beaches (Bayley Beach and Calf Pasture have excellent low-tides for finding crabs), and especially our backyard. If you’ve got trees, rocks, stumps, logs, leaf piles, sticks, etc, you have everything you need to fuel your kids’ imaginations. Plant a garden in the spring and let them help! Be curious with them! I know winter can and does impact our ability to be outside as often as we’d like, but bundle up, if only for 30 minutes at a time. Make spending time outdoors part of your daily routine. Weave nature into their lives so that they will always know it’s there when they need it. Because they will.
“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” (John Muir)
In what ways do you encourage a love of nature in your children?