Making the outdoor experience fun is rule one, especially with younger children. Take it slow and you may be thrilled at how good it makes you feel, too!
“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncultured by language.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Mr. Leopold knew a thing or two about nature and how we, as parents, stay connected to nature while modernization swirls around us. Of course my kids - Ella, 7 and Sigrid, 5 - have no idea what modernization is; all they care about is “where’s the pretty'" … "when can we can stop and play in the river" … "how many ski runs until we head to the lodge for hot chocolate".
We parents have a tough job keeping our children’s connection to nature open and active. My approach is to attack at every angle, let’s take a walk, let’s go swing, let’s bike to the river, let’s go skiing, sledding, snow fort building…let’s get outside. I have to admit it’s a little bit easier for me then the average person since I live on The Nature Conservancy’s Pine Butte Swamp Preserve in the heart of Montana's Rocky Mountain Front, but I would argue that it doesn’t matter where or how you get outside, it’s just the fact that you do.
When I’m outside I’ve noticed that my patience is higher and I’m less likely to hurry my kids along. Even if we’re late, I’ve been known to stop and quickly identify a bird on the power pole or hastily take a picture of a porcupine in a tree. I get interested and excited and in turn, so do my children. We stop more often and take longer breaks and really, we just don’t get that far. My children are younger so we are slowly working our way to going farther and staying longer.
When my girls were very young we walked almost every day… not too far … just the equivalent of a few city blocks. During summer, we’d go out in our pajamas with their stuffed animals. I’d bring the wagon just in case we had a meltdown. They were drawn in by the pretty wildflowers, or the bumblebee, or the zillions of rocks on our gravel road - or that stick.
Winter was harder, but we were committed. I’d pull them on a sled covered in a blanket for the majority of our time outside. Eventually, though, they ventured off the sled and even helped pull. The payoff was making snow balls or zipping down the steep sledding hill.
As they’ve gotten older I see that their view is getting wider, encompassing more and their little brains are able to grasp larger concepts like if we waste water in our house it could affect how much water we have in our spring. They’re like sponges right now, soaking up and storing all that they can and I am trying to fill it up with as much outdoor experience as possible.
In summer, the girls and I will be free of alarm clocks, school activities, music classes and schedules. We have all expressed interest in getting outside; whether that’s swinging, playing soccer, camping or just walking to the gate and beyond. The trick is to just get out there and find the pretty!
Jaim McPherson lives on The Nature Conservancy's Pine Butte Swamp Preserve with her husband and preserve manager, Nathan Birkeland, their two girls and their Border Collie, Fen.