Getting Kids Outside to Inspire a Love of Nature

Today we face numerous challenges in conservation. Wild lands are falling to development, pollution runs into once clean waters and climate change threatens our natural systems as we know them. The need to unite behind these issues has never been more important and yet we are moving backwards. Today’s children are plugged into technology and out of touch with the natural world. This has a negative impact on their well being and the well being of the environment. For me and many other conservationists, exposure to the outdoors led to a deep respect and love of nature. If we are going to inspire a new generation of conservationists we must first unplug kids and reconnect them with nature.

A Child in the Woods

The author at age 3 at Mt. Rainier National Park.
Many of my fondest childhood memories come from my time spent in nature. I can still feel the strong, sticky grip of a sea anemone on my fingers and the sharp cold of diving into glacial lakes, and smell the rich earth that brought forth the fruits and vegetables from our garden. I ran wild and barefoot through the garden, along rocky beaches and through icy creeks. I knew nature as something to be celebrated and respected.

At home in Seattle my family read books and magazines like Ranger Rick, dissected owl pellets and went to museums to learn about wildlife. Trips to our local parks became an adventure in discovery. I learned that to soften the blow of a stinging nettle one only has to rub sword fern on the affected area, or that licking a banana slug makes your tongue go numb (I tried this a couple of times).

It was these first formative experiences that have continued my love and passion for the natural world. I still marvel at the sight of mountains, feel my heart skip a beat while walking through the forest and sit in wonder at the majesty of our free and open spaces. It has also lead me to pursue a career in conservation so that I can help protect these amazing places not only for myself but for future generations as well.

The author 25 years later on top of Mt. Rainier, having just completed her MA in Environmental Policy.

A Child Removed

The wild play that I experienced is far different from the world experienced by today’s children. On average, American children spend four to seven minutes each day on unstructured outdoor play, in contrast to the more than seven hours spent in front of an electronic screen. This removal from the natural world causes many to see the outdoors as a separate, unknown and frightening space that they do not enter into.

A connection to nature is imperative for the future of conservation and for the health of our children. It was my connection to nature that spurred my passion for conservation. Without this connection I worry that these issues will be overlooked by a generation who does not know of their importance in our lives and world.

A Way Forward

The good news is we are starting to recognize this problem more and more. In April of 2010, President Barack Obama introduced America’s Great Outdoors, a program that aims to help better connect children and families to the great outdoors.

Organizations like the National Wildlife Federation are also working hard to get kids outside. Our Be Out There campaign helps connect kids and families with nature. If you are in the Seattle area on April 7th please join us for our Be Out There event — Get to Know Your Wild Neighbors!