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Photo by Amy S. McCaffree.
Touching the skin of a frog is a sensory experience every kid should enjoy. // Photo: Amy S. McCaffree.

Explore Locally

When competing with iPhones and apps, nature may seem “boring”—but it doesn’t have to be that way. “If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it,” states David Sobel in his 1996 book “Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education.”

Other experts agree. In her 2016 TED Talk, environmental science writer Emma Marris says, “We are stealing nature from our children…we’ve started to define nature in a way that’s so purist and so strict that, under the definition we’re creating for ourselves, there won’t be any nature left for our children when they’re adults.” She explains that we should define nature to include anything with plants and animals, like empty urban lots and street trees. She goes on to say that “…the only way we’re going to raise up a generation of people who care about nature is by letting them touch nature…because that which is untouched is unloved…If we have a generation that doesn’t know how to build a fort, we’ll have a generation that doesn’t know how to care about nature.”

These experts raise important questions: How can you help children feel more connected to flora and fauna rather than Facebook? What nature have you neglected to introduce them to?

Here are some simple ways to be more intentional about learning from the nature where you live.

  1. Begin with your own front yard or neighborhood. Consider the natural habitat you live. What trees and flowers do you see? What wild birds and insects are around? Overturn large rocks, logs, or garden-landscaping stones to explore what insects and crawling creatures are hiding underneath. Play a nature-only version of the “I Spy” game. Go outside after dark and listen carefully—are they any crickets or frogs? Look and listen for bats, magpie, quail, owl, woodpecker, chickadee, and robin; observe a flock of sparrows and their synchronized flying. If you’re not on a time schedule, stop and observe that group of wild turkeys crossing the road, the robin pulling a worm out of the grass, or the hawk soaring in the wind drift above you.
  2. Let your kids interact with nature by using all of their senses—smell the pine cone, taste the wild huckleberry and clover flower nectar, listen to the birds, feel the bird feather on the ground. Let them play in a dirt pit, make mud pies, collect rocks, carry sticks, and, of course, build a fort.
  3. Teach your children how to recognize specific plants and wildlife and know species names. You don’t have to become an expert, but try to learn the names of the most common wildflowers and animal species in the Inland Northwest: osprey, bald eagle, muskrat, beaver, rainbow trout, white-tailed deer, swallowtail butterflies, arrowleaf balsam root leaf flowers, bracken fern, stinging nettles, skunk cabbage, Ponderosa pines and Western hemlocks, and the list goes on. When we know something by name, we care more about it. Libraries have books published by National Geographic, Mountaineers Books, Falcon, Timber Press, and others. One helpful resource is the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest,” which is published by Knopf. Well-illustrated books combined with hands-on experiences create memorable learning.
  4. Get dirty with your kids. Sit down, observe, and touch nature together. Relax, have fun, and know that every interaction with nature matters.
  5. Explore the near and far wild places around you. Look closely at the diversity of overgrown weeds and grasses in the empty lot. Check out the uncontained borders of the Spokane River and along the Centennial Trail. Be daring: consider not mowing your lawn for a year and see what kind of wild meadow landscape grows, attracting bees and butterflies—a simple, no-fuss xeriscape. When you venture further from home, such as to a state park or national forest, take along a field guide to help identify trees and wildflowers. //

Amy S. McCaffree is the Special Section Editor for OTM. You can follow her on Facebook @AmyOutdoorsSpokane.

 

About Amy Silbernagel McCaffree

Writing for OTM since 2006, Amy is the special section editor and "Out There Kids" columnist. Amy enjoys sharing stories and ideas that inspire people, especially parents and their children, to be more active and adventurous, year-round, in the great outdoors. Her favorite outdoor pursuits are camping, alpine skiing, biking, hiking, kayaking, swimming, backpacking, and anything else fun and adventurous with her husband and their two children. She has a MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University's Inland Northwest Center for Writers. Learn more and connect with Amy at facebook.com/AmyOutdoorsSpokane.