Exploring The Last Green Valley – Give the Gift of Vitamin N (Nature)!
Give the Gift of Vitamin N (Nature)!
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he [or she] needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” Rachael Carson
Are your children or grandchildren preoccupied with computer games and the latest wonder of the technological age? Do you spend hours a day looking at Facebook or sending Twitter messages? Do you know the names of each of the Kardashian children, but not the species of trees on your street? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions then you and your family are in need of a healthy dose of Vitamin N – the nature supplement we all need for healthy lives. If you give your family the gift of a nature-rich life they will be forever grateful. Better yet, give yourself the gift of nature as well.
A few years ago I read Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. Published in 2008, the book explores the “increasing divide between the young and the natural world, and the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change.” It also describes the accumulating research that reveals how contact with nature is necessary for healthy child – and adult – development. As children and adults spend less time in the natural world, the richness of the human experience is reduced. It should be no surprise that research has linked our mental, physical and spiritual health to our direct association with nature.
This past week I purchased Richard Louv’s latest book, Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community, written as follow-up to Last Child in the Woods. I offer both of these books as suggested reading for parents, grandparents, teachers, educators, and naturalists who are searching for inspirational and fun ways to share the natural world with others.
With Richard Louv’s books as a jumping off point, here are several suggestions for how and where to experience nature with your children, grandchildren, friends and family in The Last Green Valley.
Organize a duffle bag or backpack so you can be ready at any time to get outside for a dose of Vitamin N. Your backpack should include the basics like insect repellant, water bottle and snacks as well as binoculars, magnifying glass, compass, maps, and as many nature field guides as you want to bring. Consider guides to birds, mammals and trees as well as guides to amphibians and animal tracks. You may want to bring a notebook and pencil for jotting down a list of animals or plants discovered.
Research nearby outdoor parks and facilities, and become familiar with their hours of operation, amenities and admission prices. Here in Connecticut we have a wide assortment of excellent state parks and forests. Consider purchasing a CT State Park Season Pass and become familiar with the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s website www.ct.gov/deep. CT DEEP manages our state parks so the website is your portal to outdoor adventure. For families with young children, take a look at the CT DEEP Leave No Child Inside program and the Great Park Pursuit and CT State Park Family Adventure.
There are other nature-based organizations that provide excellent locations and programs for adults and children. I suggest the Connecticut Audubon Society and the Connecticut 4-H Clubs as organizations with exceptional outdoor facilities and programs. You may want to look into the Windham-Tolland 4-H Camp and the New London County 4-H Camp as a good opportunity for your children or grandchildren to engage in the outdoor world.
Here at The Last Green Valley we have the Acorn Club dedicated to helping our young friends explore, share, and appreciate plants, animals and the outdoors. We have monthly Acorn Adventures and other activities. For more information go the www.thelastgreenvalley.org and click on the Acorn Club tab.
Richard Louv’s books are full of helpful and fun ideas for combatting nature deficit disorder. Here are some of my favorites.
- Put nature on the calendar. We organize sport commitments and vacations in advance, how about we do the same for time spent in nature. “For busy families, taking time for nature requires taking time – and putting it on the calendar.”
- Set a star date. Here in The Last Green Valley we are blessed with excellent dark sky locations for good night viewing of stars and constellations. Find a location nearby with no city lights (perhaps your own back yard), bring a blanket, binoculars and be amazed. Find resources to help you become aware of the night sky, such as star charts on your smartphone or the sky-awareness program “For Spacious Skies.”
- Include a hike in your family holiday traditions. A pre-Thanksgiving feast hike is a great way to build an appetite, and First Day Hikes (January 1st) have become very popular. Several are offered in Connecticut on New Year’s Day.
- If you have a garden at your home, consider giving part of it to your children or grandchildren to tend as their own. Let them pick out flowers or vegetables to plant, show them how to care for the plants, and let them enjoy the benefits from the harvest.
- Build a tree house or play fort. When I was about 10 years old my dad helped me build a tree house in our back yard. He put up the roof and floor, and allowed me to do the rest. Many years ago my son and I built a simple teepee fort in the woods behind our house. I enjoyed countless hours in my tree house, usually sitting on the roof looking up into the trees. I think my son enjoyed his fort, too. You can find several on-line resources for building tree houses and some are very elaborate structures. I suggest you keep it simple and let the kids take ownership.
- Find a good place for observing nature and return to it often – at least once every few weeks and in all seasons. Our state forests and parks are excellent locations to sit, be mindful, observe, and allow the natural world to reveal itself. In fact, you may have a good location right in your own backyard. I have a spot under the crabapple tree near my vegetable garden. I like to keep notes and observations about the weather as well as birds and other animals that pass by. I encourage you to bring your kids along, and help them find a place of their own.
Spring is finally here and summer is just around the corner. I hope you’ll join me in exploring new ways to engage in nature, to instill in our children and grandchildren the healthful wonders of the natural world, and to get a full dose of pure inspiration – Vitamin N.
We are the stewards of our beautiful National Heritage Corridor. A new generation will always be needed to step up, lean in, follow in our footsteps, care for, share, and pass it on. It is up to us to be their guide into the natural world and to give them (and ourselves) the gift of a nature-rich life.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the preceding article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work
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