by Kelly Ryan, Communications Director Sequoia Riverlands Trust
On a beautiful, clear day recently, a co-worker told me about an outing on one of our Preserves with kids from a nearby school. After arriving at Kaweah Oaks Preserve the kids gathered in a group and listened to some interesting stories about the grand Valley Oak forests and the more than 300 plants and animals that live there. Then the teacher said, “Alright- have at it, go and enjoy nature!”
The kids didn’t move. They weren’t sure what to do. The teacher continued, “Run down that trail, climb that tree, follow the sound of that red-tailed hawk!” The kids looked at her with a combination of confusion and surprise.
Could it be these kids had never had the chance to climb a tree, discover a deer track or follow a lizard under a log? Had they been stuck inside told not to “touch” anything? Had they never run around outside in a blast of energy leaving a trail of dust behind?
Many kids today haven’t been outside much and haven’t had a chance for what is crucial to their development, “unconstructed play”. (When I was a kid, mothers called it “getting out of their hair”).
Experts point out how important it is for kids to just get out and explore, without plans or goals. This information isn’t new or groundbreaking, so why aren’t kids allowed free reign outside?
There is fear from some parents that kids will get bored, hurt or find trouble. If you think back for a moment on your outdoor adventures as a kid, did you cause mayhem and carnage? Or was the outdoors an adventure you shared with friends, parents or grandparents? Do you remember a camping trip with hot chocolate and a fire, a hike where you got to carry a thermos or a walk under the tallest trees you could ever imagine listening to animal sounds from the forest?
Eventually those school kids at Kaweah Oaks Preserve found no trouble staying entertained. Was that a rabbit in the bushes? Could that be a coyote track? Did you hear that great horned owl? With each new discovery they would reach down and touch the earth, balance on a tree limb or squint their eyes to see what was circling overhead.
If you haven’t had time to spend with your children outdoors it’s not too late. It can be hiking, fishing, camping or even just a walk. Whether you live in a city, a rural community or near wilderness, it doesn’t take a much to explore nature- just curiosity. On a short hike or walk kids can look for animal tracks: no special equipment required. They can point out common birds or animals like, rabbits, owls and lizards and later as a family project you can look up those animals to see where they sleep or what they eat for dinner.
At Dry Creek Preserve and Kaweah Oaks, parents and grandparents are often seen taking leisurely walks while kids zigzag along, jumping over small creeks and racing along trails. Every kid should have a chance to interact with wild things and nature. It’s something they’ll never forget. Nature has a way of letting us discover ourselves as we uncover the wonders of being outdoors.