June 1, 2007
Writer: Mike Godfrey
Explore the Outdoors Together!
By Mike Godfrey
(LDS Life, June 2007)
"I wanna go outside." We hear it frequently from our preschoolers. To be honest, most of us probably "wanna go outside" to play also! There's something about being outdoors and connecting with nature-even if it is in our own backyard. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children for Nature-Deficit Disorder, points out the therapeutic value to being outdoors, working in our gardens, going on a hike, and enjoying our pets. Indeed, there is peace in the natural environment, and the ability to recover our wits. Most people respond positively and strongly to open, grassy landscapes, scattered stands of trees, meadows, water, winding trails, and elevated views. And there is no better way to enjoy all this than with our families.
Children young and old are enchanted by the outdoors! Indeed, nature fulfills all our senses and has a calming influence that helps reduce stress. Younger children are amazed when they discover an earthworm digging holes. Older people may find fascination in a spider's web or relaxing under a tree. Just last night I found my children chasing "bees" in the raspberries. They were fascinated by the ant on the sidewalk, and could not wait to find other bugs and worms around the yard. Whatever our experiences outdoors, we should share and delight in what we find. Rather than wrinkling our nose at the gooey slime, we should celebrate the recently discovered animal.
We also need the direct, hands-on experiences nature freely provides. To really enjoy the benefits of nature takes more than a tourist attitude. We can't learn about an apple by reading about it or seeing a picture of it. We learn about an apple by tasting it, smelling it, listening to its crunch, and running our hands over its surface. It is the same with nature. To see Island Park, Yellowstone, or the Tetons from a car window does slightly more than seeing them on TV or in photographs. We need to take a hike, smell the air, and possibly spend the night to get truly involved. Sleeping under the stars at Meadow Lake, with those huge, timeless mountains above you, is more than a drive-by experience!
Something that helps with nature exploration is an explorer's portable kit. These items can be stored in a fanny pack to be ready at a moments notice-in the backyard or the backcountry. These items help children, adults and families explore the great outdoors while observing some of nature's finest, often unnoticed, shows. Among whatever else you can think of, these things are indispensable:
- A flashlight: just a small one for looking in those dark places where creepy crawlies may be hanging out. Make sure the batteries work!
- Children's binoculars: cheap ones that can be used for looking at those birds or anything else too far away to see clearly, but not so expensive you feel badly when they get lost or broken! The ones I've seen even work looking at the night sky! While not easy to find, many science stores carry these.
- Small magnifying glass: to make those tiny things big enough to see. It's amazing what is hidden in the grass and what those things look like close up-even dirt!
- Shovel: everyone who works outdoors needs a shovel! For this kit a small garden trowel is wonderful. It is small enough to pack around, but can do big things when you need to see what is under that thing on top.
- Tape: Clear tape is better, but masking is OK. This works for collecting soil samples, catching ants, taping notes to whatever the notes need taping too, or a million other things only a child can figure out.
- String: just a foot or two is fine. I've never seen anyone use it for the same thing, except spending a good deal of time trying to figure out how to tie a knot, but it is frequently used for something.
- Plastic bags: those resealable ones. They work great for collecting those valuable science samples that always appear when you search outdoors.
- Clear containers: little jars. These "bug catchers" can help turn the great outdoors into a miniature laboratory. And what a better way to closely observe what you find. Be sure to practice catch and release if the object of the observation is alive.
- Paper and pencil: just small ones. Every scientist needs to keep notes, and young ones are no exception. While these notes may seem like scribbles and scratches to many of us, this is probably one of the most important items-and their use should be encouraged. Not only does it lead to print and reading awareness, it encourages careful observation. Something more than scientists need.
As we explore the outdoors with our families, we draw closer together and share experiences that will last a lifetime. We are rejuvenated! We also be build memories and instill a love of nature to those who need our example.
Mike Godfrey is a member of the faculty in the Department of Home and Family at Brigham Young University - Idaho