Leave No Child Inside: Escape into a child’s imagination outdoors

The Four Rivers Environmental Coalition, in concert with the national Leave No Child Inside campaign, is committed to ensuring the children of this region will grow up with a strong connection to nature, and, as a result, be healthier and motivated to become its caring stewards. This column is one of a bi-weekly series contributed by Four Rivers Environmental Coalition members to raise public awareness of the importance of access to nature for healthy childhood development, and to encourage families to explore our member organizations’ wondrous places and programs, such as camping, learning projects, and programs for schoolchildren. Visit www.fourriver.org.

By Greg Keilback

Natural Land Institute

Is it good for kids to get outside? Yes. Does it also do grownups good to see kids outside? Yes, perhaps more than we can ever realize.

The Natural Land Institute (NLI) has many opportunities to get children outdoors. Just last week, we had kids helping to count tiny oak trees that they helped plant last year along Kinnickinnick Creek by collecting acorns and then hucking them all over a field to create an oak savanna for future children to enjoy.

Many of the kids probably never thought they could enjoy circling a pole holding on to a rope and staring at the ground in search of a tree less than 6 inches tall. Not only did they get outside and have some fun, but they also helped with the management of the property. Counting tree seedlings helps our staff decide which land management techniques will best meet the goals of the project in the future. This is how the Natural Land Institute can fill a need in outdoor education. We involve kids in the science and restoration practices that our staff deals with every day, and show them the exciting possibilities of a career in natural resources.

All science aside, my best memory is of a little girl in bright pink boots, nose almost touching the ground like a coon dog on the trail, then she stands up quickly arching herself backward to the point of almost falling over, just so she could scream OAK! OAK! OAK TREE! It just doesn’t get better than this.

I love learning the intricacies of nature, trying to better understand the hows and whys, the patterns that play out across landscapes. Yet, I love more than anything that moment when talking to an interested child, perhaps about why a tree is growing in a certain location, and they look you dead in the eye and say without any doubt, “That tree is growing there because it wanted to.”

What can you do? Tell them the tree is growing where soil conditions and water availability combined in the correct ratio to allow for germination to occur? Go on to explain nutrient cycles, the cat-ion exchange capacity of the soil and photosynthesis?

Why did we have to make outside complicated? Why couldn’t we just leave outside for dreamers and have the rules be made up as we go? I think that’s why it’s just as good for grownups to see kids enjoying the outdoors as it is for kids to enjoy it.

When you take a child outside, you can escape into their imagination. Even if it is just for a moment, you can go back to making up the reasons why rocks are in a field, why grass turns brown in the fall, a time when it was OK to scream at the top of your lungs, OAK! OAK! OAK TREE! It’s OK to believe trees grow because they want to.

From the October 21-27, 2009 issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!