Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
Fourth grade students spent a morning on the Grand Mesa National Forest learning to cross-country ski. It isnt as easy as it looks with very different levels of physical coordination but the kids had a great time and learned some endurance skills! Friends of Youth and Nature (FOYAN) promote these types of outings to get more youth outside in Delta, Montrose, Mesa and Ouray counties.
What impact does an early introduction to the outdoors have on who a child will become as an adult, and how they are affected physically, mentally, emotionally—and even morally as they grow up? As it turns out, we can directly connect childhood exposure to outdoor activities with positive long-term outcomes. Time spent outdoors, whether in play, outdoor education, recreation, or even gardening can play a crucial role in building resiliency and have a positive impact on the mental and physical well-being in our youth.
Playing outside helps children use their imaginations to develop creative thinking and problem solving skills. Many outdoor activities require kids to work together and communicate in order for everyone to have fun or to accomplish a common goal. It has also been discovered that a bacterium in the soil increases serotonin in the brain and improves mood. Who knew that getting dirty is a good thing!
The more outdoor time children have the more physical activity they get. Outdoor play promotes physical coordination, strength, endurance, attributes necessary to develop a healthy body and mind. It is an easy and natural way of encouraging physical activity in young people.
As adults, many of us have learned an escape to a special place in nature helps us relax. A visit to our nearby public lands to exercise, walk with a friend, or enjoy the beautiful weather certainly helps us recharge and re-set mentally and emotionally. Our kids need that too! The more time children spend in nature and the greater sense of connection they personally feel with nature, the less likely they are to experience symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, headache, and other physical afflictions. Nature's fix helps them build mental and physical resiliency.
It has been shown that the more time we can get younger generations to spend in the outdoors, the greater sense of connection they will feel with nature, and the more likely they will become involved with environmental stewardship and preservation. We want the next generation to feel ownership towards our public lands and care for our natural resources. After all, we are part of nature. Simple actions such as conserving water, turning out lights, recycling, establishing native plants, talking about the environment, and picking up litter is a great start.
At Friends of Youth and Nature (FOYAN), we believe strongly in both the individual impacts that activities in nature have on each young person, as well as the broader long-term goal of creating another generation who feel strongly about the importance of maintaining and safeguarding our public lands for the benefit of all.
Our goal is to continue supporting programs that have both a personal and philosophical impact on the future of our natural areas, in order that future generations may enjoy these spaces for many years to come.
We would like your support to help FOYAN continue to provide a variety of outdoor experiences for our local youth. In our sixth year as a nonprofit, we have served over 8,000 youth and their families with outdoor activities and environmental learning opportunities. Please consider donating to FOYAN through Colorado Gives on or before December 5th, where your donations will be boosted through the incentive fund. Give Where You Live and donate here to help us make the biggest impact:
Students from Delta County School District put together blue bird nesting boxes for their school yards during a public land day field trip. This was a stewardship project focused on providing more nesting habitat for Mountain and Western Bluebirds in our area.
In the decade since Richard Louv's book “Last Child in the Woods”, educators, parents, health providers, conservationists, and administrators have been rethinking the nature/child relationship. According to Lesley University, research is showing us the powerful, positive impact on the health and well-being of children when they are connected to their environments. Environmental educators have been instrumental in creating awareness, programs, and opportunities for children of all ages to connect with the natural world. We know that our future depends on citizens who will have a sense of ownership and stewardship of the earth.
Of primary importance in these efforts is making sure children are engaged in the natural world. Here are a few tips for doing just that:
Allow children free time in the natural world.
This doesn’t mean organized sports or adult-directed activities, but time to explore, play, and invent. It might take the form of building a fort from branches found in the woods, wading in and observing a stream, climbing a tree, or collecting natural objects like shells, rocks, or acorns. These could be favorite memories as your children grow older!
Be a Mentor
Rachel Carson, in her 1956 article entitled “A Sense of Wonder,” asked adults to find one child to mentor and get him/her out in the natural world. As a teacher or a parent, it is important to share your own love for nature. Your enthusiasm will spark the same in children and youth, encouraging them to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, to look closer at life on the ground and in the soil. You can share your knowledge of local trees, wildlife, and plants. Learn together. (Whether it was a parent, grandparent, or other relative or friend, most adult conservationists can point to those people in their lives who had significant influence on them.) Friends of Youth and Nature has many mentoring opportunities at events we facilitate for youth.
Create opportunities for children to have experiences with the more-than-human world.
Volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center, snorkeling on a vacation, or simply walking in nature and having surprise contact with local species. These are all important ways children can come into contact with the species that share their home. Speak of them as friends and talk about how they are connected to humans.
Study the local bio-region.
Guide children to understand the area they live in: for instance, where their water comes from and where it goes once it leaves their home or school; what plants are native or non-native, wild or cultivated; what animals share their home with them; how people make a living from the earth’s resources; and what natural wonders—ponds or streams, marshes, hills, and so on—are nearby.
Enroll your child in a real outdoors camping program.
In addition to fun, physical activities, find a camp where children sing by the campfire, sleep out under stars, learn to make bows and arrows, learn to steer a canoe, or learn to use a bow drill to make a fire.
Get to know your state or national parks. If you are lucky enough to live near a protected area, visit it. These parks are protected for a reason and offer wonderful opportunities for hiking and exploring and experiencing the sounds, smells, and excitements of unfamiliar natural environments. Examples include Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado National Monument, Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, McInnis Canyons, and Dominguez/Escalante NCA. Local state parks managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife have activities and programs for kids as well.
Volunteer project– each season, choose one environmental volunteer project in your community. This is a great opportunity to engage children in real life actions. Whether it is planting trees, creating a garden, pulling invasive species, or picking up garbage—begin the stewardship mindset. It’s never too early to start instilling those values. The satisfaction of working together as a family while making a difference feels great. Check out volunteermatch.org for local opportunities or organize your own project in a local park or on public land. You can also check with any of the many provider organizations on the Friends of Youth and Nature website for other opportunities.
Stewardship ideas for teens and young adults:
Many of the above suggestions can also apply to teens and young adults as it’s never too late to instill a stewardship mindset. There are also organizations that provide opportunities for individuals and families as well:
Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado allows you to volunteer as a youth or as a family (AGES 6+). Volunteering with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) is a great way for your children and family to learn about our state's diverse outdoor places and how to care for them in a fun and unforgettable way! Find out more at: Volunteer | Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (voc.org)
The Western Colorado Conservation Corps (WCCC) is a program of Mesa County Partners, a nonprofit organization based in Grand Junction, Colorado. Check them out at: Western Colorado Conservation Corps (wcccpartners.org)
Friends of Youth and Nature is a non-profit that promotes opportunities for youth and families to get outside, experience outdoor activities, and explore nature. Follow our outdoor news blog and receive monthly tips on connecting your children to nature. Learn more, visit: www.friendsofyouthandnature.org
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