Why Connecting Kids With Nature Could Just Save the World
We approached the river cautiously. The trail guide said we could get across using stepping stones but with the recent rains the water was high and swiftly moving. The kaleidoscope of yellow-orange-red-cream river rocks shimmered beneath the water’s flow as the river exhaled a cool breeze from its surface to refresh our sweaty brows.
With gear-laden packs strapped to our backs we removed our boots and socks and walked into the river. Hand-in-hand we slowly moved across the river rocks, sliding here, jamming our toes there. All the while the water sloshing up our legs like a frothy beer in a shaky pint glass. A family of hikers watched our progress from the far bank.
I looked at him. He looked at me. Fear and trepidation were replaced by excitement and awe as we drew closer to the other side. After what seemed like an eternity, we stepped out of the river and on to the trail again, our tent site for the night just a stone’s throw away. Smiles and high-fives paved our way to our “home” away from home.
And so went the capstone of my oldest son’s first overnight backpacking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. After almost a year of talking about it, we finally planned our get-away. Just the two of us, father and son; he finally got to experience first-hand all the stories I had been telling him for years about what it was like to be on the trails, immersed in Nature and finding with that long-forgotten connection with the natural world.
As we drove home, I reflected on the power of this experience my son just had. Beyond the memories, what this immersion into the beauty and power of Nature would have on his spirit and sense of self, his intellect and inquisitiveness, his passion and perseverance for a world in such need of stewards and saviors.
What if every child could experience this life-changing experience? What if all children could tap into this innate connection with the natural world before the Culture of Consumption blinded them to it?
I think it would change the course of humanity and the world.
While optimism permeates my being, the realist in me still fears that for the majority of adults, we are past the point of fostering this reconnection. Past the point of tapping into this power to usher forth a positive force for change and reconciliation. Yes, we will take important steps forward, but it becomes clearer with each passing day that they will ultimately fall short, leaving our children and the generations that come after them with lingering questions of “why?” and “how come?”.
Giving our children ample opportunities to be embraced by the outdoors — to feel the caress of Nature’s touch — is like planting a seed in fertile ground. S/he will spring forth, grow with vigor and in the end, bear much fruit to nourish those around her/him. As parents we must be the caretakers of this responsibility of “seeding” our world with those who will change its course for the better. We must give them the experiences to forge this connection with the natural world — to realize our oneness with and in it — so that they can become the advocates and champions of tomorrow.
Yes, deep wilderness experiences thrust you into the very heart of Nature. But even simple experiences — playing outside, walking through a park, skipping stones on the shoreline, eating an apple you just picked — are powerful enough to open the eyes, minds and hearts of our children to something bigger than themselves; to plant that proverbial seed that can bear that all-important fruit. Even if you don’t have kids yourself, you can still play a role in helping the children in your community connect with Nature. Volunteer, donate and support organizations that giving kids these life-changing experiences. It’s a bit of selflessness that will pay dividends for years to come.
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