Raising an outdoor kid is not nearly as common as it once was. Growing up, we played outside a lot and when my sister and I fought we were told to go outside. We reluctantly would and usually ended up playing out there for hours. We created games and events that we acted out. We spent time exploring the pond, building huge snow forts, finding monarch caterpillar to watch hatch into butterflies and could watch and learn the characteristics of each season as it changed around us.
Wow, have things changed. Kids don't know what a raccoon is or that a Blue Jay is not the only bird that is blue. They don't know the difference between softwood and hardwood trees or that in the spring, ponds and vernal pools are a wonderland of new things (hello tadpoles, ducklings, pussywillows etc.) But, for my family, this year is going to be about being outside and exploring.
I had been thinking about this a lot when out of the blue my son said:
“Mumma, I want to play in the trees”
“Just climb the trees or have a treehouse… like a clubhouse?” I asked
“Ohhh! A clubhouse! Yes” he said.
Since he is only 2 1/2 years old, he will have to call our deer stands his clubhouses for now. He did love going to T3 over the summer as we were fixing it up and preparing it for deer season. He oooh'd and aaah'd over the birds that we saw and the deer that we jumped. With eyes wide, he took it all in and loved it. And he talked about it for weeks after.
It's easy to get kids interested in the woods around us if you make it fun and interesting. For me, I want outdoor kids who love splashing in puddles, looking at tracks in the dirt, finding bugs (no snakes, please!) and studying the different leaves and bark of the trees. Letting little kids touch, smell and get dirt just helps them connect with the outdoors and love it even more. Plus, grass stains, ripped knees and dirt packed elbows are what the clothes of young kids are supposed to look it. It means they are being kids and exploring.
I fondly remember in fourth grade, my wonderful teacher Janice Giles, took our class to her ‘back 40’ for a field trip. We walked along the mowed path and observed the flowers, butterflies and noises around us. We observed and talked about what we were seeing, smelling and hearing. She had split wood cookies for each of us and we took turns smashing them over a large rock to make ourselves homemade wooden puzzles and to see how the wood would split with the grains of the tree. Something so simple but it has stuck with me for all these years.
We talk about needing to get kids interested in the outdoors and not the latest in technology but we need to lead by example and show them how to play in the mud, see the differences in the trees and why it is so fun to climb up a giant mountain of snow just to come flying down the perfect sledding trail. I look forward to 2016 and all of our outdoor adventures!
** This article from the January issue of the Small Woodlots Owners Association of Maine.