I was raised in the outdoors. Although I was born a “city girl”, my parents loved nature and had a deep belief in the power of outdoor play. After kicking us kids outdoors all week, they set aside every Sunday to flee from the city as a family and reconnect us all with nature.
We regularly see elk and deer on our neighborhood streets, and are lucky enough to be surrounded by nature.
I suppose being closer to nature’s playground is one of the biggest reasons we moved out of Calgary (Alberta) which has now reached a million-plus population and ended up in the much smaller town of Canmore.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of hearing Richard Louv address a conference of environmental educators that gathered in Canmore. He is a journalist and the author of “Last Child in the Woods”, and he writes about the connections between family, nature and community. He gave a wonderful talk about “Helping Kids Connect With Nature”.
I was delighted to hear Richard speak about how we can connect our kids with nature in a technological age. He wasn’t preachy and he wasn’t anti-technology either. He advocated for balance, and bringing nature into our urban areas, plus the importance of also allowing kids to learn by experiencing the outdoors.
He relayed a conversation he’d had with a cruise ship’s captain who stressed that he hires both young adults who are proficient at technology (they run the computers on the ships) but that the ship equally needed kids who were raised in rural settings because “they know where the ship is” in context to the environment. He explained that these “outdoor kids” had honed their skills at sensing where they were and what was around them, using their finely developed senses beyond what they could feel, hear or smell.
I have two pre-teen boys at home. They love their technology like most kids, and I can certainly admit to being enamored with technological gadgets myself. We regularly pull these guys out for hikes and walks, and let me tell you at times, it’s a struggle, and they often complain.
They claim to find hiking “boring” or “lame”, and the only thing that keeps me going sometimes is that I saw our older kids do the same. Eventually, they too developed a deep love of nature.
About 10 years ago, I took a course on the “Symbology of the Doll”. It was a fantastic art course I stumbled into without knowing what it was about, and I loved it. Joy Macleod — an incredible doll artist who made mystical dolls out of natural objects — taught us about the various ways that dolls have been used for centuries — as sacred objects, for healing and even for social justice.
For our week on “Social Action Through Dolls”, we created a mixed media paper doll to reflect our sense of place in the world and to communicate a message about something important to us. As I listened to Richard Louv’s talk, I remembered this course. My doll’s subject was about “connecting children with nature”.
To start us on the creative process of our doll, Joy had us jot down ideas on a number of areas she prompted us on. I looked up my notes from the course, and here are some of what I had written in preparation for my mixed media doll:
Early experiences: the family connection of Sunday hikes
A place of peace: a ferny forest, the long prairie grass
Colors that restore the soul: the deep green of the forest, and the clear blue September sky
A sound you love: a babbling stream and children whispering
A symbolic animal: the owl for its wisdom
A cause you believe in: connecting kids with nature and showing them an alternative to the electronic age (No wonder I loved Richard’s talk!)
This is the piece I created for the class: Madonna and the Owl. She has a green grass halo, a bark shirt and a dock for a skirt. Her strong arms hold both an owl (wisdom) and her young child who is wrapped in moss and has the sun behind his head. She is anchored firmly to the earth, symbolized by the rock, and near her feet sprout flowers.
Throughout all these busy years raising children, nature has been a respite for my husband and I. It brings us peace and restores our soul. My own mom once said, “We didn’t really think that we were introducing you to nature as much as the fact that we went because we needed to be out there.” I feel just the same way.
I know that even though our children moan and groan about going for a walk, our insistence on getting them outside is important. In my mother’s heart, it is my wish that it will stick into the future.
And, hopefully — just maybe — because we’ve introduced them to the larger world of nature, they will be one of those fine young men who are adept in their technological age, but will always know where their ship is.