In the past 10 days, I have had the most wonderful memories created with my 10-year-old son and my other 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students from Bridgeway Christian Academy. What’s made the last 10 days so special? Lots of outdoor experiences! We started with an overnight field trip for our 4th and 5th graders at Warm Beach Christian Conference Center (in Stanwood) where our students were able to work with a well-trained facilitator who helped our group of 10 kids examine and strengthen their leadership and communication skills with activities that fostered trust, self-examination, respect, and problem solving. The students went through various challenge course experiences including climbing a 40-foot climbing tower. All of the experiences took place on a drizzly spring day, but that didn’t matter – we were having fun outdoors and growing as a learning community.
Then about a week later, our class of 15 third, fourth and fifth graders spent a day at a local park geocaching. (Geocaching is a free real-world outdoor treasure hunt. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS.) We hiked for at least 8 miles, finding 8 geocaches and having one geocache we never could find. The day was spent running through tall grass, smelling flowers, identifying trees, digging around dirt and meandering down trails.
Then this weekend was the kicker: a family campout near the Nooksack River on some private property. 15 families from our little school came together with children ranging from toddlers to teenagers. The children played kickball, rode horses, flew kites, made crafts, competed in relay races, went on a nature scavenger hunt to find items to make into a totem pole representing their family, and ended the evening around the campfire singing songs, listening to a message from Redeemer Lutheran’s Pastor Dan Haugen, and listening to funny stories from one of our teachers. But mostly the kids just played outdoors – they ran around the trees, they rolled on the grass, they spent time swinging on the two swings that hang from large trees; they spent hours just doing what they wanted to outside. The adults sat and relaxed and watched the magic that happens when kids are “set free” in the wilderness.
Four years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference in Vancouver, Washington where Richard Louv spoke. Richard Louv is a journalist and author of eight books about the connections between family, nature and community. He coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder”. After hearing him speak, I became even more convinced how important outdoor play and experiences are for children. As a parent and elementary educator, I have come to value the time kids spend outside (doing both child and adult initiated activities). Louv writes about how never before in history have children been so plugged into screens—and so out of touch with the natural world. In his groundbreaking best-selling book (Last Child in the Woods, 2008) , he directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rises in obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and depression. Some startling facts revealed by Louv in his book: By the 1990s the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of where it had been in the 1970s (when I grew up). Today, average eight-year-olds are better able to identify cartoon characters than native species, such as beetles and oak trees, in their own community.
So it’s easy for me to figure out why I treasure these recent outdoor experiences with my son and my students. And now I have set a goal for the summer. I am going to try to explore at least one new outdoor setting each week with my son. There are so many wonderful parks, beaches and trails around Whatcom County and our beautiful state. I am committed to revisiting our favorites and discovering some new ones while enjoying time outdoors with my son. As the summer progresses, I’ll share some of our adventures and I hope that the readers of this blog will offer some suggestions of places we should explore. My husband, son and I will benefit from your tips and I bet lots of other people will too!