I want to encourage people to connect children with nature. I believe camps have a genuine opportunity and responsibility to be catalysts for tens of thousands of kids, but we often miss it. Most of us are in more than the child and youth development business, we are in the outdoor child and youth development business!
There is little value in scaring children about environmental issues. Nor is there much value in studying things so remote that they seem to not matter. (Why worry about the ozone layer when you don't know there's a squirrel in your backyard?) The most important thing is simply for all of us to remember how wonderful the natural world is, and to share that. I believe we can get most folks on board with a gentle but confident start, and that is far better than a radical or tenuous start.
Enough talk! Here are some things you can DO!
- Take a walk. Harry Truman made a point to take a walk every day. You should, too. You'll clear your head and get new ideas. You'll hear the birds, marvel at the plants and trees, and see the seasons change. You'll get some exercise, breathe fresh air, and have some peace and quiet time. You'll notice something new!
- Welcome to the party. Knowing names is nice, but it's the relationships that are important. Think of identifying the plants and animals as if you're attending a party. Parties can be exciting. You already know some of the folks; others you might like to become better acquainted with. Some folks at a party can really help you; others are just fun to know. Of course, some you may want to know and avoid! So, enjoy the natural world, and don't get hung up on identifying all the trees, plants, and bugs. It's a party!
- Talk about the things you want to value. We all know that our words have impact. Tell your staff you saw a cool bird today. Ask your friends if they know the plant by the dining hall. Share the sunset with your significant other. Watch ants with a camper and speculate on what they are "talking about." I know a guy who made every effort to include something about the local nature in every letter (business and personal!) he wrote. Imagine your letter starting with, "Autumn colors are brilliant these days." Or, "I saw a chipmunk dive into a hollow log on the way to the office." Let experts share their wisdom with you. Tell someone about your favorite place to observe.
- Practice the things you want to value. Begin a little pilgrimage in your life to learn more, to care more. Go get a nature guide and read more. Do some more recycling. Control the erosion, clean up the junk heap, plant some native flowers. Save those beautiful trees or fragile plants. Have a nature program, even a small one. Put in low energy light bulbs. Feature the local environment in your camp artwork and decorations. Sit on the porch and just take things in. Let nature inspire you. Stop and smell the roses.
- Publicize the things you want to value. Put a sign up that tells folks you recycle. Show campers where the very special part of the camp is, and share what natural aspect is so remarkable. Help people identify a few trees with signage. Make a nature trail. Let the local birding club walk your trails. Begin a partnership with the wildlife department. Include environmental aspects in your camp games, stories, and traditions.
Jim Parry is the outdoor education director at Collin County YMCA Adventure Camp in Anna, Texas. He can be reached at JimP@YMCADALLAS.org.
Originally published in the 2007 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.