The Nature of Childhood Needs More Nature

It’s hard to believe 3 months have passed since the day I spent on a flat bottom boat, under the raging Gulf sun, surrounded by oil, meandering through the Gulf coast marsh with Rosina and her 8 year-old nephew. Back home in Maryland, where my routine varies with each sunrise, I find myself in awe of Rosina and her tribe, who’s daily routines have remained remarkably unaltered for generations (at least until the oil spill hit, threatening their culture and way of life). My time in and around Louisiana changed me. It sneaks up on me in unexpected ways.

At back-to-school night at my daughter’s middle school, the science teacher spent considerable time talking about the Outdoor Education program for the 6th graders.

Under the program, students get to:

  • spend 3 days learning about the Chesapeake Bay watershed
  • hike through the woods,
  • collect water samples in the creek,
  • sleep in bunks
  • prepare their own meals

I don’t know who was more excited about the program – me or

my daughter. Yet, as I looked around the room, I noticed many did not share our level of excitement. This is likely due the fact that for this group of more than 100 pre-teens, the nature of their childhood doesn’t have much nature in it and sadly, they reflect the national norm.

Realizing this, I am even more amazed at the kids in Rosina’s tribe. Unlike my daughter’s classmates,  they don’t need a 3 day outing to introduce them to nature. Not only do these kids know their native trees, local birds and critters but they know them in the way you know a best friend.  You know more than their name or color of their hair. You know their favorite food and when something is wrong.

This Saturday my family and I will participate in Hike & Seek.  As I encourage my friends and family
to join us, I do so not only with the knowledge that it will be a fun outdoor experience but also with the importance that kids need to know their local trees and native wildlife so that as they grow, so too will their relationship with and desire to protect the significance and natural beauty of their place, the Chesapeake Bay.