by Jim Parry
What’s the bottom line with all this KIDS and NATURE, “No
Child Left Inside” brouhaha? It is that children don’t spend
enough time in nature. That leads to problems:
- They exercise less,
and so are at a health risk, and
- They know
less about the natural world, care less about
it, and so the environment is at risk.
show that kids spend more time indoors and that
obesity is increasing (pun intended?). Studies also show that natural
science knowledge is decreasing. While simplifying this topic is helpful
for understanding and focus, we must remember that this is a complex
issue. Obesity is complex. Test scores, statistics, and scientific studies
in general are complex. But the issue remains; this we know.
look for the root of the problem, and then work
toward a solution. I believe that the more time we spend indoors, the
more we deprive ourselves of the chance to form a relationship with
nature. We spend time with what we love, and we love what we spend time
with. Because camps have a major outdoor component, they can build this
love in children. Bonds with nature are deep, even genetic. So building
them should be pretty straightforward and simple. Still, since the bond
is broken, we must rebuild and strengthen it!
So why and how do we bond
with nature? I made a “Top Ten” list.
Each one is followed by examples, and then suggestions for camps.
- We are amazed through our senses and profoundly
and personally affected. Clouds, stars, wildflowers,
ripples in water, a shady forest glen; don’t
those things move us? Let’s teach our counselors to stop and marvel
at the beauty.
- We find peace, solitude, and consolation. Why do we
take walks? Why do we sit outside and feel the
breeze or watch the sun set? Nature is therapy; the outdoors is like
- If it is interesting; we revel in learning about it.
Sometimes the simple curiosity about how the
stream flows, the grass grows, or where the raccoon hides teaches
us the most. Or it might be using a scanning electron microscope to
probe the mysteries of molecular bonds. Young inquiring minds are
shaped in the safe, nurturing camp environment. Could your campers
learn from a few local trees or birds?
- Nature is where we are,
it surrounds us, and it is our habitat; so we
take responsibility and ownership of it. We love our home, and we
love our camp. We might just love a certain tree or bench or view.
Camp staff should demonstrate to campers how to take ownership in
camp. We probably all say, “This is your
camp, take care of it.” We should emphasize just our relationship
with it, loving the land, the water, etc.
- We work in and with nature;
it challenges us, and so we come to respect and
love it. I remember walking on a certain trail late at night to do “bed check,” many
years ago. I remember the roots and branches I learned to avoid in the
dark, and the contours beneath my feet. I remember trails I cut, trees
I planted, rocks I removed, and litter I picked up. We feel pride for
the work we do; we know it well!
- We receive from nature, and so we
learn to appreciate it. Nature is the ultimate
provider. Our economy is based on our ecology. The Greek root, eke
roughly translates to “home
hearth.” Farms, gardens, quarries, wells, lumber land, and wild
edibles. Campers should take part in this relationship; milk comes from
more than a grocery.
- We play, find joy, freedom and space — and
are refreshed. I certainly hope that every camp is able to provide some
joy, freedom, and recreation! This one can’t be difficult! Can
you make your recreation time a little more natural?
- Others inspire
us about nature; we are touched. A few of my
camp nature heroes are: Bruce, Dave, Bob, Mary, and John. I have some
famous heroes too: Henry Thoreau, Loren Eiseley, Teddy Roosevelt,
Edward Wilson, Stephen Gould, Jared Diamond, and others. The point
is that people teach us things and inspire us; we are hard-wired to
learn from each other.
- Nature provides meaning and acts as a metaphor
for life and its lessons. A bundle of sticks
is stronger than a single twig. Grass with deep and intertwined roots
comes back stronger after a prairie fire. Bees must work together
to make a working hive. There is a circle of life. Campers should
see and touch these things.
- Nature provides mystery. It’s
scary, thrilling, and fight or flight excitement! One night in our tent,
we heard thunder get closer and closer; we were frightened and yet loved
it. A camper heard an owl in the distance and rushed up to hold her
counselor’s hand. A rustle in the bushes startled a group of
boys. They talked about whether to chase it, and in the meantime,
the skunk wandered off.
The next challenge is to examine our camp programs and
be deliberate in encouraging the above list.
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 2009 July/August
issue of Camping Magazine.