Many of us in this region have fond memories of our childhood in November. For me, they include big piles of leaves in the yard seemingly created for jumping in, the smell of burning leaves, sitting under giant oak trees listening to the roar of the wind through the canopy, and kicking through knee deep leaves in the forest. Unfortunately, most children do not have the opportunities to create such memories and not just because burning leaves has been limited. Most children are not introduced or encouraged to explore outdoor play. Without time outdoors children lack the opportunity to fall in love with nature.
A Passion for Nature
Those childhood experiences gave me confidence in the outdoors. That confidence led me to a passion to explore more deeply the natural world around me. Playing in nature felt so natural and the exposure led to a sense of wonder and discovery. Later in life that directed me to pursue a professional career in managing natural resources, followed by a passion for outdoor recreation. November has always been my favorite time for paddling, hiking and backpacking. Those experiences have produced memories of fall colors reflected on the surface of rivers and lakes, mornings of watching fog rise while sipping camp coffee, and coming back to the earlier love of sitting under giant oaks.
Developing a Relationship with Nature
Sadly, many children will not have opportunities to form wonderful memories of playing outside in natural settings, with only limited experience playing outside beyond their yard or organized play area. They are deprived of the sense of wonder and discovery that I was gifted with as a child. Without those experiences, a relationship with nature is missed, and without that relationship, an essential connection is missed. If we are unaware of the many values of nature, we cannot understand how intricately we depend upon some delicate balances. If we do not understand how we impact the natural environment, we may often act in ignorance and create behaviors that have serious consequences, such as threats to water quality through our common yard management practices.
Nature is Healthy
Aside from the negative impact on nature from humans, by missing our connection to nature, children and adults endure personal and even spiritual loss. In Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, he cites a long list of research papers that support the mental and emotional benefits of outdoor play for children. By not being encouraged or not allowed nature play, children are at a deficit and consequently we are too, as a culture. Far more menacing than biting insects is the seduction of screen time.
Outdoor Education is Important
For children, the past year has been very challenging with the reduction of direct social interaction and increased screen time as necessitated by schools who were adapting to a pandemic. Widespread behavioral problems are common in schools this year. Students lost important time to practice academic and social skills, therefore outdoor education may be more important than ever. Time in nature is calming yet exciting, and with appropriate guidance children can greatly benefit from building a relationship with nature.
Help Build Memories
I have had a wonderful career as an environmental educator. I credit my experience to a passion that was developed from childhood experiences which helped me build a relationship with nature. It has been my calling to introduce children to the wonders of nature for their personal benefit and to develop a sustainable society. I have personally witnessed behavioral changes in children from even a single experience of meeting a crayfish, planting an oak tree, or teaching peers to care for our natural environment. I have been fortunate to develop my own memories and to play a role in helping others develop theirs. I am asking for your help to continue this work.
Education as an Investment
Friends of the Fox River (FOTFR) advocates for the Fox River. Our best tool is an informed and empowered citizenry. Consequently, FOTFR invests heavily in education through boots-in-the-stream education experiences. FOTFR does not charge participants for our education services but we pay our staff to deliver them. November is the giving month and Friends of the Fox River has a Giving Tuesday goal. FOTFR plans to raise $50,000 to cover the expenses to get an additional 5000 students into their local stream in 2022.
5000 More Students Connecting with Nature
This is a very aggressive goal. Aggressive measures are necessary right now. Children are struggling, especially in areas in our watershed where they lack the resources and opportunities to interact with nature. Getting 5000 additional children in boots next year will have a big impact upon environmental literacy.
Please Help on Giving Tuesday
Together we can help our children and the Fox River. Help FOTFR connect the children of our watershed with nature and its calming and healing power. Help us be the educational spark of excitement when a child discovers the life and beauty of the watershed and understands the importance of protecting its resources. Help FOTFR do our work by donating to our Giving Tuesday campaign #filltheboots. Thank you.