The popular media is full of stories about an obesity epidemic among children. Headlines scream that the current generation of children is the first with a shorter life expectancy than their own parents, based solely on lifestyle. We cringe as experts reveal real-life horror stories of children that spend the majority of their waking hours in front of electronic screens and who can identify more fast-food corporate logos than plant and animal species in their own backyards.
As parents, we are constantly bombarded with all the things that we must be doing wrong. Blame and finger pointing is prevalent. There is even a trendy new label for this crisis of disconnect and inactivity – “Nature Deficit Disorder” – and the reported long-term effects of this syndrome are frightening.
But, here is the good news: we can fix this. We can turn it around. It is not too late.
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
We don’t have to walk in the deep woods to experience nature and see wildlife. Comfortable, easy trails like those through most city parks or along repurposed rail-lines present ample opportunity for immersion in nature. A walk doesn’t need to have a destination – the journey is destination enough. The key is focus. Set an observation goal for your walk. Have a simple scavenger hunt for natural items. Play a game of alphabet I-Spy where each person takes a turn finding something that starts with or looks like the next letter in the alphabet.
Just being outdoors can release a child’s natural exuberance for active play. Find a field, race across it. Find a hill, have rolling races down it – I promise you, kids go nuts for this one. Find a fallen log, or a curb and walk across it to stay away from “the alligators”. Find a tree branch to swing on or a tree to climb like monkeys. All natural outdoor environments can offer opportunities for adventures. Even urban public parks have open space, trees and wildlife to help build the bravery and comfort components of outdoor experiences. How many challenges can you invent for your family?
It is simple to create a sense of adventure in your activities by adding drama to the ordinary. Have you ever considered taking your kids on a “dinosaur” hunt? You’ll need to use “stealth mode” so that you can see the dinosaurs before they see you. Although I am extremely doubtful that you’ll actually see an Archaeopteryx, be sure to remind the skeptics in your group what any paleontologist knows – ordinary birds are indeed non-extinct avian dinosaurs (the descendants of nonflying Theropods like Velociraptor, most likely).
Set up safe, manageable, adventures until you feel ready for more. Does the idea of camping appeal to you? Book a campsite at a local Provincial Park or Conservation Area. Set up your chairs. Have a campfire, complete with gooey roast marshmallows or meat-on-a-stick (precooked makes it even easier). Watch the stars. And when the yawning begins, bundle everyone off into the car and head home to your own beds. Start small. Leave the weekend in a tent until you feel comfortable.
As a parent and educator, I feel that we have an obligation to take our children outdoors, as often as possible, even if it takes us out of our usual element. Given the opportunity and the encouragement, most children will discover the wonder of being outdoors. It is our job to create the scene for an outdoor experience, but most times, once you get out there, the children can direct it all by themselves.
The upcoming Carden Alvar Nature Festival provides an ideal opportunity to get out and explore nature. Taking place all day on Saturday, June 6, there will be activities for kids and families and it’s all free to attend. Nature walks, a live animal show by Earth Rangers and bird house building are just a few of the highlights. Visit www.cardennaturefestival.ca for more information.
C’mon! Put on some sturdy, comfortable shoes, and grab a jacket and hat. Toss a snack and a bottle of water in your bag, and LET’S GO!
Written by Julia Wolst, Education Coordinator.