Tag: Children in Nature

Let’s take this outside

Almost since the beginning of my parenting days I have realized that parenting is easier outside. It’s easier for me as a mom, and easier for my children too, to be in big open spaces, on the water, in the woods, under the sky, or even in a tree in the yard. When we are outside we are happier, we get along better and our most creative selves show up with new ideas, new projects, new creations. Outside there is space for all of us, we can make as much noise as we want, we can get messy, move around as much as we want, all without worrying about the fact that we might be too loud, too noisy, or too wild for anyone’s tolerance level. Especially if that anyone is a sibling.

For us, as a family, life truly is easier, more creative, more relaxing, more true and just way, way better outside.

Last week I attended the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin’s (CINCA) annual award dinner and fundraiser at the Four Seasons Hotel downtown. The event honors those in the community whose mission is to help more children feel connected to the outdoors – with the idea being that by exposing and connecting kids to nature now, we are fostering future stewards of the land so that we can be assured that our natural spaces will stay protected and revered for generations to come. A lofty goal for sure, but one made so much easier and so obvious by the work this group is doing. 

I am always so inpsired at this event as they show the short films of the honorees and the clever and creative ways they have of luring children and families into spending more time outside. The images are always  of children climbing, learning, playing, exploring and I realized I want MORE of that in our day to day. Since school had begun, we had gotten into a pattern of coming home, coming inside, doing homework and settling in for the night. Sure, sometimes we played in the alley or in the yard, but after seeing this footage I wanted more!

I realized that in my head, a trip to nature had become a day trip. It wasn’t always like that but with the school calendar the way it was, and the varying schedules of each family member being so much more hectic than in years past, we had gotten in the habit of reserving nature for weekends only. Oh there was the yard of course, but beyond that, we needed more; more nature, more exploration, more playing and even more just laying and staring up at the sky. Everyday if we could! Or at least a few days a week.

Since this event, I’ve shifted my view to thinking of getting in nature as more of a pop-in, than an all day stay. Though technically we live in the city, Austin has lots of green and natural spaces to explore. We could stop somewhere on our way home from school and stay for just a short visit. We could walk a few blocks to the creek or a park or even go under the bridge and play in the rocks right underneath the busy-ish street we live on, looking for fossils or searching for toads.  And if I can’t think of someplace to go nearby, there’s a Nature Rocks website that serves up suggestions based on our location and the amount of time we have.

I like my nature fix. And I like what it does for our family. All of us. Even when it is just for a short stay.

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Children in Nature

I’ve always thought that parenting outdoors was way easier than parenting indoors. There’s more room, there’s more tolerance for loudness and rambunctiousness and space to run and climb and play and space for all members of the family to have the space they need to dream, explore, rest, run, and create. It almost inevitably brings our family to its best self. Even times when we enter cranky, we come out feeling recharged and a little nicer too.

In our house we are lucky to have a little bit of nature in our own backyard and to have access to so many amazing natural places just outside our gate.

But not all kids or families have the same access to the outdoors. Or the same faith that nature is a good place to be.

The Children and Nature Network is a national organization started by Richard Louv and prompted by his book Last Child in the Woods.  The organization emphasizes the importance of nature in the lives of children. It works hard to offer families and communities access to the outdoors and to make nature a part of children’s education.

There are branches of this network all over the country and here in Austin we are lucky to have a very active branch; The Children in Nature Collaborative which is a collaboration of organizations in Austin working hard to expose kids to nature. This organization provides education, tools, ideas,  inspiration and a great website to help clubs, communities and families all over Austin to GET OUTSIDE and play.  (On it you can even do a search for the nature nearest you!)

This time of year the Collaboration pays tribute to the folks who are working hard to expose kids to nature – kids who might otherwise have no connection to it all. Kids who are learning how to be future stewards for our earth while also learning some very amazing things about their own abilities.

The Celebration of Children in Nature, on Thursday, September 20th, held at the most amazing Four Seasons Hotel on Ladybird Lake is a night of great tribute and beauty and  is one of my favorite events of the  year!  It is lovely and inspiring and is always so incredibly decorated to truly match its mission.  (butterfly pupa as the centerpiece? That you can then take home and watch hatch in your very own yard? are you kidding me??!!)

This year’s award winners are: Camp Fire USA Balcones chapter, Candlelight Ranch, Explore Austin and Perez Elementary School – all of whom are doing incredible work to help families and kids discover nature and thereby discover themselves.

If you’d like to attend this gorgeous event on Ladybird Lake, or provide sponsorship and help support this amazing collaboration, and cheer on the award winners who are literally changing the face of childhood, not to mention the face of our earth for years to come, you can contact Westcave preserve via email or call 830-825-3442.

Or, if you’d just like to find out more about ways that folks are working to help get kids outside, or discover ways to get out there yourself, visit Nature Rocks Austin.

Now go outside and play!

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I’ve been spending lots of time these past few weeks focused on kids and outdoors. Part of my time was actually being outdoors: in the very rare snow that we had last week. In the freezing cold temps. Hanging out in the yard around the fire. Hiking with the kids.

Part of my time was spent talking about kids and outdoors: with Austin Children in Nature Coalition discussing ways to increase kids time outdoors. Watching the film Play Again, an amazing documentary that took 6 kids away from their video world and introduced them to the outdoors.

In all of this play and discussion and sharing of ideas, the word inspiration keeps coming up. When I’m actually outdoors and spending time with the kids I am continually amazed by the inspiration I find in our whole experience. Being outdoors with them also inspires lots of stories of my own youth – times of play, sledding, swimming, skating, just being in the outdoors. I am inspired too by their own stories. Their own sharing of the inspiration they find. The ideas they concoct. The places they create and their pure love of the air they breathe and the plants and the rocks and the wildlife they see.

What I’m realizing, is that for most people, whether they grew up in a city apartment building or on a 1000 acre ranch or on a tropical island far, far away, there was a place, or a person, or a moment in their childhood that inspired their own love of and connection to the natural world. I’m curious about that piece of the natural connection. What was your inspiration? Where were your magical outdoor places? Be it a 14th Floor apartment window staring at the moon, or a tree growing up through a suburban sidewalk, or a stretch of abandoned dirt road that went on for miles on end – where did you go to connect to nature? And what did you discover about yourself when you were there?

For me it was Snake Mountain, Holstein’s pond, Hussa Pond and Indian Lake. I am lucky that all of these places still exist as natural spaces and have even been preserved recently so that they will always stay natural places. In those places I learned to climb trees and rocks, ice skate, dig for clay in the muddy banks, paddle a canoe, balance on a fallen log, and just be. Just lay on my back on the moss or on the frozen pond or even on the bottom of the canoe, staring up into the sky, the trees, listening to the geese fly overhead or watch the robins build their nests or taste the water dripping from the end of a melting icicle.

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While I do get to bring my own children to those very same places each year, it is the feeling of those places that I get to share with my children every single time we are outdoors – wherever we may be. Those feelings of connection to the self. To the outdoors. To the trees and the sky and the plants all around me. And to the people I’m with.

Try it. Try going outdoors with your kids or with yourself. Try laying on your back looking up at the sky. Try connecting to the feelings of your own childhood magical places. And try sharing those stories with the people around you. The feeling of connection you’ll find is like no other.

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Play Again

Children in Nature Austin held a viewing yesterday of a new documentary called Play Again.  It was an incredible film showing the statistics and effects of screen time on the modern day childhood. Some of the stats were scary such as the fact that the average child in the US watches 7.5 hours of screens per day.  To me that seems virtually impossible but all the kids interviewed concurred with some as high as 12-15 hours per day on weekends. This number includes computer time/video games/phones, etc. Any screen at all.

In the film they featured 6 average teens who talked about their screen usage, virtual relationships, game time, etc. They all presented themselves very honestly and, to the filmmakers credit, without any judgment at all about their behavior. They then took these 6 kids out on a nature excursion in the amazingly beautiful woods of the Pacific Northwest (this Texas resident was drooling over the lushness of it all). The belief systems of the kids was revealed in a really poignant way – again without judgment at all.

One of the points made in the film was how we as adults have to model the behavior we want to see in our kids. This is something we have talked about often as part of Slow Family’s mission – model what we want to see. If we are texting, ignoring our face to face relationships so we can check our virtual ones, losing connection with those who are closest to us, that’s what our kids will see and copy. This film definitely has caused me to look again at my own relationship with the virtual world. Don’t get me wrong, I love my virtual time. I love the communities formed around it. I love the sharing of information, photos, ideas via the virtual world. But I have to remember that the real connection has to come first. And foremost. And if I want connection with my kids down the road, that connection needs to be established first.

The film showed too that the connection to nature needs also to be established now if we are hoping to have stewards for our planet down the road.  One of the experts interviewed stated that there “must be a valuing of the earth. If there is no valuing, there is no protection. And if there is no protection, there is no hope.”  I don’t by any means want to sound alarmist but I do agree, that if our kids don’t feel a connection to nature, there will be no desire for them to help protect the planet we live on. And as one of the kids said during their campout, “I like earth. It’s my hometown.”  And I won’t even go into the cravings to consume that are created when screen time is increased.

This film is just now making the festival circuit but is available on their website Play Again Film . I highly recommend every parent watch this film. And I recommend also that every teen and pre-teen watch it with them. (just be forewarned there are some graphic video game images so you can determine for yourself if your child is old enough to see it.) It’s a really insightful and informative film and I think it allows the viewer to form their own judgment – not about others but about themselves and their own behavior.

We don’t have to panic. But I do think we need to ponder, Is what we’re doing working for us? As a family and as a society and as a planet too. As one of the kids said, it’s up to each parent to look at their child’s screen behavior and determine if it’s too much. Is it getting in the way of real relationships with other people? With their own family? With their own self?

As one kid said when they were out in the woods, “This is cool. It’s like more realistic than video games.”

If you see it, I’d love to know what you think. And if you’re in Austin and want to find ways you can get in nature near you, check out Nature Rocks website which has parks and nature events listed by area.

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