"I hate nature!" Well...this should be fun.

December 16th, 2013, 11am

Why Go Outside?

“I hate nature!” When you work, as I do, reconnecting children to nature, hearing a child say that to you definitely will not make your day. In fact, my heart sank as I stood listening to a 9-year-old girl tell me that being outside was not for her. While most children today probably wouldn’t make the same emphatic, negative declaration, my hunch, sadly, is that is only because thoughts of nature rarely enter their minds.

When the whole world seems to be available to us, whenever and wherever we want, on the devices we seem to love so much, I suppose the question, why even go outside?, isn’t an unreasonable one in the minds of many children. Add to that, the advent of the “over-scheduled” child, assiduously monitored by the “helicopter” parent, and it doesn’t seem that the outside has much of a chance. We have a generation of children in Canada growing up in the safest time in our history, with access to endless opportunities. So does it even matter that unstructured, and unsupervised (for those old enough) playtime in nature is rare?

If we value the cultivation of resilience in our children, if we want genuine moments of creativity and inspiration for those growing up amongst us, then the answer must be yes. Having every answer to any question literally at our fingertips, is a wonderful thing, but so is finding answers to questions you didn’t even know you had. It has been my experience that true inspiration and growth can only come when we allow ourselves to step away from all that is familiar and comfortable in our lives, and journey into the unknown. Yes, things are often difficult and messy there, perhaps even frightening or painful, but adversity and challenge bear the fruit of depth of character.

Enter a forest and put a child at the foot of any steep hill, or ridge and they will invariably want to climb it. Stand at the muddy edge of a creek and a child will want to throw stones into that moving water, show them how to skip a rock along its surface and you will be a witness to enchantment. Visit a trail after a storm has passed and experience the power of nature in the downed trees of a new landscape. You can Google “what is the fastest bird on earth?” or you can step into nature and see the peregrine falcon soaring above your head. Children outside in nature are always learning about the world, themselves, but it never feels that way.

Children who are given the opportunity to discover the world about them, with their own two hands are forever changed. Physically exploring a natural environment creates moments where the imagination is called upon to solve problems. How can I cross this stream without falling in? Can I really build a fort out of branches and leaves? The added bonus of all this exploration is that it is movement that never feels like the imposition of exercise. We have all heard or read the dire statistics on obesity and diabetes in child and youth populations, and getting outside is an avenue to being active, in particular for the child who isn’t involved in sports.

Earlier, I mentioned resilience, so what do I mean? A boy falls while excitedly scrambling over some rocks in the woods, and scrapes his knee. Certainly it will hurt, but he can pick himself up realizing that yes, that happened to me, but I am okay, I can continue. A girl tries to climb to the top of a ridge, just like her older sister, and fails. But with each return trip to the woods, she pushes past failure, eventually mastering it. The resilient child has the character to be a success in a difficult world.

And what of my little nature-hating friend I introduced you to at the beginning? Being outdoors with all of its bugs, dirt and unpredictability was challenging for her, and I’d be lying if I said I felt certain I could change her mind. But having grown up playing in the woods, I was confident of one thing: the wonder of a forest and its magical effect on kids. I engaged her creativity with a nature craft project and she responded with a torrent of imagination. She smiled as she ventured deeper into the unknown, into her initial discomfort and, with her own two hands, found that nature could be fun. Imagine that.

Adrian, Shu, Carlos, Craig and 1 more said thanks.

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Mark Yearwood

Can a man remake his life? In the woods, no less? I am trying. www.kidsinthewoodsinitiative.org

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