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New York

Connecting Kids with Nature

Mat Levine, The Nature Conservancy’s conservation lands manager in Central and Western New York, is a self-described ‘field guy’. Before coming to work for the Conservancy he spent almost 10 years carrying out projects for scientists around the country, moving every six to eight months for various seasonal positions.

Today, he welcomes the chance to stay in one place and form deep connections to the Conservancy preserves he helps manage. He shares these connections with his daughter Gabriella, giving her a childhood rooted in nature. We spoke with Mat about a new survey that reveals parents around the world are concerned that children are not spending enough time outdoors.

As a parent, what is your reaction to the fact that children are spending less and less time outdoors?

Mat Levine:

It’s sad. Exploring nature is such an important component of how my wife Amie and I approach parenthood. Whether we’re just out walking or putting Gabriella on skis for the first time, it’s a great family connection whenever we’re outside. We’ve always been very active as a couple, and nature has always been important in our lives. Before Gabriella was born we pledged to each other that we wouldn’t give up that lifestyle, and so far we’ve followed through.

Why is it important to you that your daughter grows up connected to nature?

Mat Levine:

For one thing, it’s part of a healthy lifestyle. Beyond that I see no better way to satisfy her curiosity than by giving her the chance to explore nature. My wife and I can just see it in her eyes when she watches a bird fly up or as she’s crawling over driftwood on the beach or pulling a stick along the sand in the water. She is totally content and in the moment. There’s just no better way to achieve that.

Were there particular moments when you realized how important time in nature is for your daughter?

Mat Levine:

At three months old, she was tucked in my coat as we hiked around Zion National Park and cross-country skied at Great Salt Lake, but you don’t have to travel far to have amazing experiences. One Saturday not too long ago we were all walking at Chaumont Barrens Preserve admiring the flowering prairie smoke. I heard some rustling in the trees and we all waited, crouched down on our knees and got very quiet, as the largest porcupine I’ve seen in my life came down and began waddling toward us. Gabriella’s jaw dropped watching the chubby creature. It was a very real moment that caught all of us by surprise.

By Kate Frazer

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