Encouraging the Outdoors

BICYswamp

Our family trip into the wilds of Florida is over. We’re all back home where we’re supposed to be now.

The highlight of the trip was certainly our day and a half into Big Cypress National Preserve with our granddaughter, Hannah. We walked the Florida Trail and she worked on her Junior Ranger badge. We saw alligators (the highlight for me) and a cormorant struggling with a catfish (Lenny’s highlight).

But the real highlight was another trip into the wilds with  Hannah – into nature, as she calls it. We only see her three or four times a year so I can’t take any credit for her development – that credit belongs to her parents.

BICY-glades lobeliaOur once a year trip to Family Summits can’t sustain her interest in the outdoors for the rest of the year.

Every time I take her on a trail, show her a new flower or help her identify a new bird, I feel I’m making some contribution to her outdoor life. The flower on the left is a glades lobelia, a new flower for me.

And it’s not that difficult. When she was three years old, we walked about two miles on a nameless trail in her neighborhood. We got ready for this “hike” by making a ritual of filling our water bottles, choosing our snacks and picking out a sun hat. And she loved it.

Now that she’s much older, she seems to understand that her grandparents will take her on an outdoor adventure, someplace. The trick (and it’s really not a trick) is to be fully present and fully enthusiastic as we want her to be. I have seen so many adults (parents and grandparents) who expect children to do things they wouldn’t do. The family may be on a walk but the parents are on their cell phone or sitting on a bench reading a book expecting their children to run around. Why should children be interested in the outdoors if parents aren’t genuinely as interested?

Hannah and doll - Dec. 2010She has a National Park passport book where she collects her stamps from each national park unit that she goes to. And if she doesn’t lose it, she’ll have quite a collection before she’s ready to explore the parks on her own.

We let her pick out a souvenir from the Big Cypress Visitor Center store and she chose a female ranger doll. The doll is almost but not quite in uniform. She’s wearing green pants and a gray shirt, has a flat hat and binoculars around her neck. For some reason, her National Park Service arrowhead does not have the same design as on a real uniform.

All these incremental activities help to encourage an outdoor childhood. It’s not that difficult.

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