Childhood Memories Renew My Desire to Get Youth Outside
I have a tense relationship with social media. At times I find it useful and at others it is anything but. Earlier this week, however, it offered me an opportunity for nostalgia. Someone created a Facebook page for the town I grew up in and this digital gathering place provides an easy way to reconnect with old friends as well as folks I may only vaguely remember. For many of us who check into the page, our only common bond is that of our hometown.
Yet, the other day one of the “friends” on the page posted a remembrance of a wooded path that cut through part of our downtown – between the library and the downtown center. This request elicited many responses and recollections of other woodsy paths that seemingly only local kids traveled. Reading the many posts helped me recall in vivid detail the paths and shortcuts through my childhood neighborhood. I closed my eyes and traveled again those “portals” into nature – each within a mile or two from home.
This trip down memory lane coincided with an editorial that caught my attention, “Rewilding the American Child,” in the online version of Outside Magazine. Here, the editor espoused “unplugging a generation of screen-addicted kids from their devices, give them the freedom to roam (unsupervised), help them make friends with animals, and show them that we, too, love to play outside.” The editorial was thought provoking and insightful and reminded me again of my own childhood pathways into the natural world so joyfully explored.
“Today, America’s kids are caught up in one of the largest mass migrations in human history: the movement indoors. Only recently have we begun to spend our lives penned in by walls, staring at screens. Increasingly we don’t touch, look at, or even speak to each other, connecting instead through apps. At home, children see Mom and Dad thumbing away nonstop on their devices and follow suit.”
“For many of us who came of age before the smartphone, this transformation has been painful. If your childhood was full of hours spent wandering the neighborhood with a pack of friends, your screen time composed of Saturday-morning cartoons and after-school specials, the rise of the digitized, overscheduled, indoor lifestyle can leave you deeply dispirited. For kids the price is much higher: a steep rise in health problems, heightened social pressures, and a frightening set of new addictions around technology.”
I heartily agree with the editorial that the youth of today “deserve the chance to explore nature without an agenda and to fall in love with nature so they become stewards of the earth.” Perhaps we need to remind our adult selves that we too deserve the chance to explore and fall in love with nature.
You can find the editorial at this website address:
Author and Journalist Richard Louv published several books on this subject with the aim of providing important information and helpful tips to parents on getting their children into nature and the outdoors.
His first and well known book on the subject is “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” which was followed by “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Digital Age,” and then the very helpful “Vitamin N: the Essential Guide to a Nature Rich Life.” I recommend these books, especially the latter, for folks seeking guidance and ideas to get kids connected to nature.
Here in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor there are countless pathways and portals into nature with several locations and organizations offering specific nature based outdoor programs that can help you “unplug” the youth in your world.
We believe getting children comfortable and excited about the outdoors is so important we launched our Acorn Adventure program several years ago. Every month we offer a different program for kids of all ages. In 2020 some of our adventures will include bald eagles, animal tracking, letterboxing, night skies and more. Join us at 10 a.m. Jan. 25 at Roseland Park in Woodstock to look for bald eagles and learn all about these amazing animals. Acorn Adventures are free for families thanks to Putnam Bank’s sponsorship. Find out more at our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/LastGreenValley, or visit our website at www.TheLastGreenValley.org
Here are a few organizations I am familiar with that offer outdoor programs for adults, families and kids.
The Friends of Goodwin Forest in Hampton has a variety of programs offered throughout the year. Check out their website at www.friendsofgoodwinforest.org
Connecticut Audubon Society has programs for kids and an April spring break camp and summer camp too. Check them out at www.ctaudubon.org
Connecticut offers a wonderful program called No Child Left Inside that includes the Great Park Pursuit Family Adventure. Now is the time to plan your 2020 with No Child Lift Inside. Check out the website for information https://portal.ct.gov/ncli
Some of our region’s land trusts offer monthly programs for getting kids outside and onto their land trust properties to experience nature. Wyndham Land Trust offers up monthly Wee Wanders program for fun adventures. Check them out on Facebook or their website for more information at https://www.facebook.com/wyndhamlandtrust/
Museums, such as Old Sturbridge Village, provide indoor and outdoor tactile hands on experiential “fun” activities including a summer program for kids. You can find out more at their website www.osv.org/education/youth-programs/
Winter is a great time to plan family outdoor activities for the youth in your world so they too can learn about and come to appreciate the natural world. Winter is also the perfect time to GET OUTDOORS! If you must take your smart phone with you, perhaps consider turning it off, it will still be there after you have reconnected with the world right outside your doorstep.
We live in a special place called The Last Green Valley. Our land is still more than 80 percent undeveloped and full of wonderful natural habitat for all of us – young and old – to enjoy. I hope you’ll join us and many others as we care for it and pass it on.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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