Back in the day when I was in elementary school, scouting was the road most traveled by children wanting to explore the great outdoors. These days, scouting is still around, but it’s hardly the draw it was in past decades. Instead, we rely on costly summer camps to help wean children off the Wii controls and laptops and get them into the woods, challenging their bodies and imaginations.
But if you’re like me, you don’t want camp staffers to have all of the fun teaching your kids about their natural world. We need to put on our own counselor caps and lead the way to the redwoods, caverns and caves. We should be the ones pointing out the planets and stars in the night time sky. Our family trips to Yosemite (below) without the intrusion of toys and TV have afforded us precious quality time we will always treasure.
Mapping out these adventures is now much easier, thanks to a new family outdoor campaign called Nature Rocks.
The four founders – all experts in recreation and conservation – designed a website that guides parents on where to go and what to do, from camping at national parks to pitching tents in your own backyards. Many include the “F” word. Don’t be silly, of course I mean free.
When given the choice, these fresh air proponents want you to choose outdoor recreation over indoor hibernation because air and wind and surf and mountains make humans feel more alive.
You don’t have to be John Muir to make these choices.
Whether flying kites on the beach instead of flying on planes…
paddling your kids down the river instead of dropping them off at the mall…
or looking at life forms rather than looking up images via Google…
the experience of family bonding amid the beauty and mysteries of nature has tremendous rewards, including the kind of toasty, S’Mores round-the campfire memories that last a lifetime. Scout’s honor!
“The benefit of nature for children are fundamental,” says Richard Louv, co-founder of The Children & Nature Network, one of the four sponsors of the Nature Rocks campaign. “As families look for lower cost vacation options, we hope they will discover that nature offers families a personal stimulus package, letting them save money while improving the physical and emotional well being of their children.”
Louv’s organization is fostering an international movement to connect children with nature. An author who has written for the New York Times, his most recent book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, sees the urgency in nurturing a future relationship between children and nature.
After all, the next generation will inherit a planet rife with pollution, water and energy shortages, and a loss of habitat and wildlife – the plagues of modern civilization.
Just as committed are the other three leaders in the campaign: The Nature Conservancy, REI, and ecoAmerica. Their Nature Rocks launch was timed to coincide with the beginning of summer when parents are searching for activities that will keep children busy – but not so busy that they miss the joys of the season.
“As a working mom with two young children, I appreciate the useful ideas that improve my and my family’s lives,” says Meighen Speiser, VP of Marketing for ecoAmerica. “The Nature Rocks website offers loads of easy-to-use tools, tips and over 100 fun activities like nature art, weekend camping, hiking at a nearby park or an impromptu neighborhood nature scavenger hunt. The added bonus is that these activities are either inexpensive or free.”
The tips are available on the 2009 Summer Nature Staycation Planning Guide, which is chalk-full of fun suggestions for planning family recreation close to home. The site is very user-friendly. Just input your zip code and designate what you’re looking for. The Nature Finder map points you in the direction of nearby activities, such as horseback riding, swimming and snorkeling, camping and skiing. There are hundreds of activities to choose from.
The Nature Conservancy – which works to protect ecologically important lands and waters – says its goal is for a people to feel they are a part of all living things. “Now, working on the Nature Rocks initiative, we’re able to help the next generation better their health and reconnect with nature,” says M. Sanjayan, Lead Scientist, who adds that the Conservancy is dedicated to supporting conservation work that will not only enrich the natural world but also better our health and our lives.
So dust off those sleeping rolls and rinse out the sticky cooler. To quote Joni Mitchell, who wrote Woodstock about her generation’s desire to end war and take stock in nature, “It’s time to get ourselves back to the garden.”
Image: Fabian Bromann