Girl in a tree

Q: My favorite place as child was…

A: Oh, I had lots! I grew up in northern Michigan, where each season brought its own delights…in extremes. I’ve always loved snow–the deeper, the better–so anywhere became magical after a snowfall. My brother and I spent hours in the yard, romping with the dog and dragging our sleds around.

As soon as school was out, we’d head for the family cottage to spend endless summer days in a pack of cousins and neighbors. We caught frogs in the creek and crayfish under the dock. We constructed beach villages and lawn chair forts. We swam until our skin wrinkled. We walked along the road and picked bouquets of daisies and sweet peas. As we got older, we ventured further from home, biking the sandy trails in the woods and camping at the lake’s wild “”North End.””

Q: My favorite games to play were…

A: Mostly the ones we made up ourselves. They sound silly now–a playground game called “”Dinkeldorks”” that involved a lot of spinning in circles, a spooky after-dark running game called “”Vampire,”” and one called “”Car!”” where we ducked down in the ditch every time a car drove by (and sometimes came home with poison ivy). But every kid deserves the opportunity to make up equally ridiculous ones!

Q: What did you like to do on rainy days as a child? Snowy days?

A: I walked to school in all kinds of weather, rain and snow included–and usually declined even if rides were offered! I also read a ton, so if I wasn’t outside, I was very happy curled up with a book.

Q: What life lessons did you learn from playing outdoors or in nature?

A: Curiosity–there was always another rock to turn over or trail to explore.

Responsibility–in the form of the vegetable garden I took on at age 11 and the stripy monarch caterpillars I’d bring home, name, house in peanut butter jars, and provide with a daily serving of milkweed, all for the joy of watching them change into butterflies.

Independence–as I wandered further afield, learned skills such as canoeing and backpacking, and found that I could do just about anything I needed to.

All standard lessons, but I’m pretty sure I’d be a different person today if I hadn’t spent so much of my childhood outside.

Q: When I look at how rapidly the 21st Century has changed our lives, the thing I miss most is…

A: Spontaneity. People are so busy and scheduled that it seems we only get together for events arranged far in advance. As a kid, I could just walk out the door and immediately be caught up in some unplanned activity. Sudden projects that needed many hands, such as a fallen tree in the driveway, brought all the neighbors together to pitch in. Now everyone is constantly available by cell phone or email or instant message, but we’re almost never actually available to lend a hand or play a game or just sit on the porch and chat.

Q: Why do you think a Green Hour a day is so important for children?

A: Nature is a spark for creativity. The outdoors, unlike most toys or video games, doesn’t come with a prescribed way to play with it. It’s a place of immense possibility–and real consequences. It can inspire kids to think creatively, dream big, and come up with new ideas that no one has ever had before.

Q: Do you have any advice for parents and/or educators who are interested in getting kids outdoors?

A: Just do it! Kids grow up too fast to put it off for another day. Yes, the house needs cleaning. Yes, the class needs to learn multiplication. But there are frogs in the pond and birds singing and flowers blooming right now! It doesn’t have to be elaborate or take a lot of time. Try to find ways to fit the outdoors into your daily round. Kids are rambunctious? Pretend to be rabbits and hop around the house. Time for lunch or dinner? Have a picnic under a tree. Teaching the parts of flowers? Send students on a scavenger hunt for examples. The world is waiting!

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Published: March 4, 2009