Saturday, March 9, 2013

Nature's Power In Raising Kids

During an early morning visit to see manatees on Florida’s Orange River, I heard a childish voice ring out across the stillness.  She was about 10 and was kayaking with her mother among these gentle, almost prehistoric sea animals.  “Look over here, look over there, oh my gosh, there are some more”; her innocent enthusiasm and delight left many of the park visitors smiling.

I also noted that she was completely comfortable with the kayak and handled it as a contributing member of the 2 person team.  She looked like a child that spent a lot of time outdoors.

It seems to me that children who experience nature and the outdoors on a regular basis develop many benefits.  It connects them with the great circle of life, the many mysteries of the world.  It dwarfs them in the larger scheme of things and teaches them that they are not the most important part of the universe.  They learn to respect nature and take their place in stewarding its gifts.  They learn how they can contribute to important ecological issues (saving the endangered manatees, for example).

They learn independence and resourcefulness as they master the skills needed to be strong and safe.  They face problems that need to be solved right now.  My brother once saved our cousin from drowning when the cousin fell off a rock at a very remote Northern Canada lake.  At the same lake, my friend and I struggled for 20 minutes to get back into a rowboat we had been swimming from.  The adults watched us from shore and would have come out to help us if we needed them, but they let us figure it out.  How proud and important my brother was when he became the family hero.  How much self confidence my friend and I gained when we got back into that boat.

Of course, there were many other factors in our growing up, but it is not surprising to me that my brother, friend and I all grew up to be confident, resourceful and independent people.  And we all continue to love the outdoors and nature.

My advice to parents is to get your kids outside as much as possible.  Expect them to entertain themselves in the yard.  Help them develop the skills and independence needed to ride their bikes safely so they can explore their neighborhood on their own.  Take them to parks and beaches and set them free to find the fun of building sand castles or playing in the waves.  Plan family hikes and visits to zoos and public gardens.

Call a time out from the addictions of the digital world – a world that is taking up much too much of our children’s time.  The digital world of tablets, ipods, tv, video games and computers is passive entertainment; the natural world is active entertainment.  Out of interactive, experiential activity, children learn responsibility, resourcefulness and respect.  Which by the way, are the main characteristics parents ask me to help them achieve with their children!

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