A father’s role in fostering a love for the natural worldFeb 29th, 2012 | By admin | Category: Active Kids, Healthy Kids, In Every Issue, Life With Kids, The Dad Dispatch
A Father’s Role in Fostering a Love for the Natural World
By Kyle Waggener
My wife and I have always loved the outdoors, often going hiking, camping, backpacking or birding. When our daughter was born, I wondered what impact this new addition would have on our outdoor pursuits. We read many books about child rearing in the months leading up to Rhiannon’s birth. All of the authors encouraged new parents to go about their lives, business as usual, and take your child along. So that’s what we did.
We wanted to foster a love for the natural world in our daughter. Recent studies have shown that the two most important factors are positive, direct experiences in nature and being taken outdoors by an adult close to the child. Unstructured free play time outdoors comes with many other benefits for children.
Research shows that children who play in nature experience cognitive benefits including creativity, problem-solving skills, increased focus, and self-discipline. The social benefits of outdoor play include better cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness. The emotional benefits include stress reduction, reduced aggression, and increased happiness. Outdoor experiences kept us pursuing our hobbies and the experts said that it was good for our daughter’s well-being.
From an early age Rhiannon went along on hiking and camping trips with us. We had a baby carrier backpack and she often fell asleep to the motion of the backpack as we hiked. The few moments that she was awake, I would notice the fascinated look in her eyes as she looked up to the trees along the path.
One of the keys to fostering a love for nature is unstructured play time in nature. This comes naturally for children and Rhiannon has never had a problem finding something to play with in nature. This seems odd to me because she has a lot of toys at home but often complains of being bored. Not so when we’re outside. When we go camping and sit around the campfire Rhiannon loves to play restaurant. She gets a stick and a piece of bark and takes our meal and drink orders. Then she’ll go behind a log and pretend to cook our meal. She brings us rocks, acorns and other natural objects on a big leaf that serves as the plate.
Somehow her imaginary restaurant always seems to be out of what I’ve ordered and she gives me something else and tells me to eat it anyway. But I’m a good customer and never complain. When she joins me on bird walks that I lead Rhiannon disappears into the tall grass, only her hat visible, pretending to be a Serengeti lion sneaking up on her prey.
I feel like our efforts have paid off. When Rhiannon was four, we went on an overnight backpacking trip to Savage Gulf. We had just packed up to hike back to the car after breakfast in a beautiful campsite overlooking Big Creek Gulf and Rhiannon and I were hiking along the trail holding hands. About 10 minutes down the trail she started crying. I thought that it was way too soon for her to be tired from hiking so I stopped and asked her what was wrong. Through her sobs she said “I don’t want to leave.”