Why Connecting Kids With Nature Could Just Save the World

Pemigewasset River, White Mountains New HampshireWe 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.Pemigewasset River, White Mountains New Hampshire, Franconia Falls

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?”.

Pemigewasset River, White Mountains New HampshireIt is our children — especially the young ones — that hold one of the most important keys. It is they who we must entrust and empower, foster and forge to re-shape humanity and the world.

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.

Dinner on the Pemigewasset River, White Mountains New HampshireWhat are your experiences with connecting kids with Nature? Have you witnessed this power in action? How could society do a better job in forging these stewards of tomorrow?

Be well,
Bill

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Comments
10 Responses to “Why Connecting Kids With Nature Could Just Save the World”
  1. SherryGreens says:

    I believe in everything you are saying, and think it is so important. I grew up summers at my parents cabin, and used to take long rambles in the woods – at age 15 I would sit in the middle of a dense forest and write in my journal, I would look look out the window on the car ride back and see other forests flash by, and wonder what lay within them, and wouldn’t it be so great to get out and see? I did not realize it then, but my parents were giving me such a precious gift.

    I now bring my young children to that same cabin, and take them into the woods, looking for treasures in the forest. Wildflowers, pine cones, a carpet of moss, a perfect spiderweb. We stop and talk about it, and they drink it all in. This year we planted a garden together, and their tiny hands planted the carrot seeds, and we watched them poke out of the soil and grow, and then we pulled them out to eat and they were amazed that a carrot was attached to all that green. They have never eaten so many carrots before!

    It is so important. I think my kids are starting to get it. We need to spread the word for all children.

  2. Bill — I’m so glad I came across your site! (thru a FB mention share by Robin Easton, I think) I love this post about kids and Nature — something I’m exploring as to how I can best use my efforts to help promote the kids- back- to- Nature movement.
    I also checked out your 37 places post and it too struck a chord, as I’m working on something akin: my 101 Tips On How to Be In the Moment.
    At any rate, I looks like we’re on a similar wavelength! I applaud what you’re doing and will follow you thru the RSS feed. Keep the good work coming!!

  3. Bill Gerlach says:

    Sherry // Thank you SO much for sharing and letting us in on what sounds like an amazing family tradition. That is just awesome! When you say “I think my kids are starting to get it” I think you’ve hit upon something very important: As parents, we should never make an experience with Nature a negative one for our kids. All we need to do is facilitate the exploration and indulgence. Nature’s own energy and beauty will take it from there. With time and repeated positive experiences, deep relationships will build and foster the stewardship our world needs. Be well!

  4. Fabulous post and a subject very close to my heart. Thank you for sharing. I am passionate about the natural world and raising awareness of the importance it plays in all of our lives. When children and nature mix, something magical happens. All children deserve the opportunity to experience that magic.

    I am a children’s author /illustrator passionate about connecting children with nature. Over the last couple of years I have been running nature classes in the forest, witnessing the benefits and magic nature plays in a childs life.I truly believe nature playgroups, forest schools and youth nature clubs are fundamental to today’s society.

    Mother Nature needs our children as much as our children need nature.

    I felt compelled to start up an organization that would help change the way children spend their time. The “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution was launched just a few months ago and I am now taking it on the road to make a documentary to find solutions to the problems we are facing.: Like so many, I have been connecting children with nature for most of my adult life but it wasn’t until several months ago that it really hit me how catastrophic the disconnection between children and nature had become and the consequences it has brought about. My heart sank when I read that children spend 90% of their time INDOORS. As a mother and a naturalist this disturbed me deeply. I belief that we can change, the time is right, to reverse the time children spend indoors.
    http://www.letsgooutsiderevolution.com/wordpress/about/

  5. Bill Gerlach says:

    Dear Marghanita // I can’t tell you how much you just made my day! Thanks for stopping by and introducing yourself and your amazing (!) work. What you’re doing is EXACTLY what I’m talking about: Planting those proverbial seeds; shaping/sculpting/forging the stewards of tomorrow; fostering that heart-love-mind connection with Nature. I’m definitely going to be spending some time this weekend reading more on both your sites. It’s just fantastic. (I wish I was a publisher and could help you more with “Orange Moon”!) If you’re ever in the New England region of the U.S., please give a shout out. Be well!

  6. Oh Bill, thank you so much for your kind words. I too am optimistic and believe that it is our children who hold the key. I am filled with hope for the future because there are people like you caring enough to make a difference. The movement may be small but it is growing momentum, I feel excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. By working together and collaborating, we can create BIG change. We are all connected in this beautiful journey and we all have a vital role to play.So love what you are doing, you make my heart sing and my spirit dance…..life is beautiful. Love and peace, kindred spirit, Marghanita

  7. I agree that getting our kids out into nature is one of the most important things we can do for the health of the future world, on many levels. I do get bothered, however, when adults take kids outside or have them do some kind of project to “save nature” or something like that. After much introspection, I think it’s because it puts a lot of burden on children to fix something so huge when they didn’t do anything wrong. I’d rather see kids getting out and getting connected to nature, having experiences outside, learning about plants and animals and building those connections themselves. I like to see them beginning to understand how nature can make them feel great in many ways, and how their lives depend on nature and natural processes happening around them. Then, when they get older, they can use that knowledge and love and turn it into stewardship on some level – either activism in their communities, voting for environmental candidates, or just being smarter consumers and citizens. All of this can take place in addition to continuing to experience nature for the spiritual, health, and intellectual benefits. But if they don’t have a deep foundation of time spent outside and meaningful personal experiences, doing some sort of activist project for school or something will have little long-term impact. I’m not saying that’s what you are advocating here – just wanting to put up a flag of caution.

    I’ve been working hard to get my kids outside consistently since they were babies. Some seasons of life I have had more success than others. But I do see the effort paying off in their knowledge of plants and animals, geography, where their water and food come from, and respect for other life forms. I see their fascination and enthusiasm, and try to fan those flames when I can. We look for experiences where we can do interesting things outside, and get out hiking as much as we can. Last weekend we went camping with the Puget Sound Bird Observatory, a non-profit citizen science organization. We watched them do bird banding in the Cascade Mountains, and saw birds up close and personal. We learned about bird identification, molting, migration, how to tell a bird’s age, and many other things. That’s all in addition to catching snakes, frogs, dragonflies and beetles when we weren’t catching birds. We saw the stars in a clear, moonless sky, heard owls hooting at night, and breathed in the Ponderosa-Pine-scented air. It was fabulous! I wish there were more opportunities like that, and I am grateful the the PSBO opened up that weekend to let kids (and their curious parents) come and see real science in action. You can’t beat that kind of hands-on experience.

  8. A resounding YES! If you had asked me just 3 years ago what my and my children’s interactions in the outdoors would look like, I would have suggested a yearly camping trip led by my husband. And, a few picnics. Ha. Lame.

    Now, after a couple years of intentional work and change I hope that your realist side can hear that adults too can change and we have to. If we don’t change, we wont invite our children into the knowledge and wisdom of the deep wilderness as you have done. We have to first be changed, then we can invite our children and future generations. We must. I’m on that journey now, and I’m loving it!

  9. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Jennifer // Thanks for stopping by and sharing — and doing all you can to get your kids outside! I agree, there are SO many opportunities — both big and small — for getting our kids outside and up close with the natural world around them. After thinking about it a bit, I guess I differ from your perspective a tad when it comes to involving kids in “projects” that can have a positive impact on their long-term outdoor experience. Of course, I’m not talking about hauling kids out to the shoreline to pick up after an oil spill or something along those lines, but exposing kids (at an appropriate level for their age, maturity and ability to comprehend the context) to some things that allows them to understand how and where humans have gone wrong with nature — I believe — can enable our kids to form opinions early on about the DOs and DON’Ts about how to take care of the world around us. Who knows? It might just plant a seed in them that steers their future career (e.g., scientist, engineer, teacher, park ranger, etc.). Be well!

  10. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Kristy // So good to see you “out and about”. :) We all continue to grow in so many ways — even as adults. I guess there still might be hope for adults; I need to be reminded of that often to counteract what I see and hear in the midst of my day-to-day. Thanks for helping me keep the spark alive! BTW — I keep telling as many people as I can about your experiences with the Tar Sands Action. Just amazing! Thanks for going through all of that!