Time out (together)
August 13, 2014 —
Earlier this year, I heartily enjoyed serving as an environmental educator at the Lackawanna College Environmental Education Center (LCEEC) in Covington Township, PA. Traipsing through the forest, followed by children ranging in age from pre-school to fourth grade, peeking under rocks, poking along a stream bank, exploring a meadow, we focused on learning about habitats and the various species typically found in each.
It was wonderful to see the children absorbed in these outdoor experiences as their senses came alive. Often, we would hear one exclaim, “I wish I could do this EVERY day!”
At the end of a program, I would sometimes ask, “What was the best thing you saw in the forest today?” Most of the children would cite the salamanders or frogs we had found. But one young lad looked me right in the eye and declared, “YOU!”
Thinking about this later, I realized that for all the truly amazing wonders of the natural world, one of the finest is to experience it with someone whose enthusiasm is contagious. Helping wake a child to such wonders can set the stage for a lifetime of love, respect and caretaking of our natural resources.
Such was the case for Rachel Carson, who describes carrying her infant nephew along a moonlit beach in order to give him the sensory experience of the sea in her book, “A Sense of Wonder.”
So when a friend of mine came to visit last weekend on her birthday, bringing her six-year-old son along, we pondered how to spend the day. Opting to forgo the local fair in favor of a foray in the woods, we set a plan. “He’s never been on a hike,” she said, so we started off with a ramble along the Delaware River towpath near the Roebling Bridge. At Minisink Battleground, we had a picnic, then hiked again. By day’s end, without amusement park rides or cotton candy to sweeten the experience, he declared, “I’m coming back here for MY birthday!”
To get the best out of such an adventure, it isn’t necessary to be an expert about the great outdoors. More important is to share your interest in what is encountered out there. Should you wish to increase your understanding in order to guide your youngster, the publishers of Orion magazine offer several excellent resources for reconnecting children with the natural world, like the essay collection, “Leave No Child Inside,” as well as a Nature Literacy Series (visit www.orionmagazine.org/cart/index.php?crn=207).