Throughout my whole life, even the teen years and early adulthood, I was able to spend time in the woods. Growing up we lived in the suburbs, but the developers had done something pretty unique – instead of mowing down all the trees to build the houses, they kept every one they could, so our neighborhood felt like being deep in the forest. Even our house which was designed by my father, was built in a large u-shape because my parents wanted to save two large oak trees that grew smack in the middle of the property. We had plenty of wooded area to spare with trails, swamps, even fields of wild strawberry we picked and brought to our mothers who made jam.
As I entered my teen years, my best friend who lived down the block and I would spend countless hours still behaving like kids while walking through winding trails and collecting sticks, unusual rocks, and whatever else we could gather. In the woods we didn’t have to try and be cool or fit in. It was just us, the birds, squirrels, and trees – and yes, we hugged the trees. In the woods we could sing and dance, act silly without being told to be quiet. We could laugh until we cried and cry until we laughed, and every minute of it we were free to be ourselves, all without the pressures of growing up; and no Walkman, no video game, no telephone call followed us in. Just two girls, a couple bottles of our favorite flavored seltzer, and some chocolate. Who would we have grown to be without that connection to nature, without that important time out from the pressures of fitting in and growing up?
The more years that pass, the less time our kids are spending outside. By the time they’re preteens, their connection to nature has shriveled and is too often nonexistent. That saddens me more than I can say, especially when on beautiful summer evenings my family and I go for walks through our suburban neighborhood and notice a disheartening lack of children playing. Who will they be when they grow up without that connection to nature, without that important time out from the pressures of fitting in and growing up? It scares me.
No matter what age your child is now – still young enough to play in a park or old enough to decide to leave the car home and walk in the woods with a good friend – encouraging them to reconnect with nature is vital. Don’t know where to start? The US Forest Service has built a helpful website aimed at getting preteens outdoors. The site can even help you locate the nearest park or forest so you can get started. My suggestion? Find a good chunk of forest, pack up the family, and spend some time away from the everyday pressures of life. You may just find you need to sing and dance in the woods even more than your kid.
Now go Discover the Forest.