Naturalist in the Life of a Child ?>

Naturalist in the Life of a Child

I have always loved nature. Growing up, many of our family vacations involved camping in the backwoods of Idaho or visiting the Oregon Coast. From wildflowers and rainbow trout to starfish and sand shrimp, I learned how important it is to respect nature. I believe this connection is why I am so passionate about protecting the environment and encourage others to do the same.

When Josh and I were completing our home study in the fall, my love of nature came up in many conversations with our social worker. And in our family book, nature is a common theme when I describe my interests, background and hopes for our child. Of all these hopes and dreams, a love of nature is high on the list.

But I don’t just want our child to love nature, I want them to protect it, and feel that protecting nature is their responsibility, just as it is everyone else’s. And as a parent, it will be my job to nurture that connection as my child grows up to ensure they feel that way.

A few years ago I became involved with an organization called the Center for Earth Leadership, a small nonprofit founded by Dick and Jeanne Roy. The Roys care so deeply about the environment that they quit their jobs more than 20 years ago to be full time volunteers and encourage others to become leaders themselves. Dick and Jeanne have become good friends of mine and I jumped at the chance to be trained to lead their latest program, “Being a Naturalist in the Life of a Child.”

The Naturalist program is designed to encourage adults to intentionally become a naturalist in the life of a child. The role is a one-on-one, ongoing relationship with a single child and does not require any technical knowledge of animals or plants. The relationship can be daily (parent or neighbor), episodic (grandparent, aunt, uncle), or distant (relative).

It’s an easy program to become involved in – all you have to do is attend one session where you learn about what it takes to play the role of a naturalist in the life of a child. Once the session is over, you are encouraged to identify a child that you intend to create this relationship with, and then given resources for how you might go about doing that.

Swimming with my Granddad Ray in the St. Joe River during our family’s annual camping trip, circa 1990.

Honestly, it surprised me that this type of program is even necessary. When I was growing up in the 90s, my play time involved some indoor play but mostly unsupervised outdoor play with my siblings and friends. I rarely watched TV, we didn’t play on the computer and there were no handheld electronic devices to distract us. We weren’t involved in multiple sports, so any time that was spent outside was just to play. It’s when I learned how vegetables grew, observed that some flowers close at night, and discovered that some bugs curl up into a little ball when you touch them.

The “sense of wonder” and curiosity I had as a child is something all children are born with, and this natural connection is experienced directly through the senses – seeing, touching, hearing, and smelling.

But things have changed since I was a kid. In our modern culture, there are many things that disconnect children from a sensory experience in nature and erode their sense of wonder. Those include the commercialization of childhood, regimentation through organized activities including sports, preoccupation with an electronic “wonder world,” over-stimulation generally, and adult oversight and protection for security and safety.

That’s why I am so excited to participate in this program, because it can lessen the effect of these negative influences and provides a way for an adult and child to bond. The vegetable, flower and roly poly bug examples I gave above were all introduced to me by the adults in my life and I look forward to playing the same role in my child’s life, as well as the lives of other kiddos I have a relationship with.

I also can’t help but think that the more we as adults nurture a child’s love for nature, the more we will start to respect it and become motivated to help preserve the environment ourselves.

So what do you think, are you ready to take on the role of a naturalist in the life of a child? If I’ve piqued your interest even a little bit, I encourage you to host a gathering at your home or at your office.

If you are interested and live in the Portland Metro area, please visit the Center for Earth Leadership’s website to learn more and then send me a message through the contact form on my ‘About Me’ page.

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