Go Play Outside


We’re just back from Bowman’s Hill’s annual Land Ethics Symposium (http://www.bhwp.org/educational/Symposium.htm) and I’m all fired up to jump back into the fray and change the world. But what had the biggest effect on me was that two of the presenters spoke of mothers who threw them out the door every morning, pockets stuffed with sandwiches or fruit, and told them to go play outdoors.

It reminded me of my own mother, who insisted I play outside and “get some fresh air on your body.” Today’s moms would, no doubt, be horrified that I was out in the woods “cooking” dirt and grass to eat and tasting the barks of various trees and shrubs as I believed the Indians had. Our parents taught my brother and I about the dangers of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, rattlesnakes and copperheads, so we survived.

We returned from our trips to the quarry with pockets full of stones and spent hours poring over our science encyclopedia and field guides trying to identify our “collections,” birds, trees, berries, and stars in the night sky.

We got almost no science training in school.

When I no longer required my brother’s “supervision,” I dragged my best girlfriend to the railroad yards down near the marshes, where we would watch them wash the trains, and spy on the “bums.” I noticed that the marshes and their birds were very different from the woods.

This is how children learn about the natural world. To understand it and connect with it, they have to be allowed to explore it. Children have an innate curiosity about bugs, butterflies, worms, rocks, plants, trees, birds, water, animals, spiders, snakes, salamanders, turtles, and fish. Reading about these on a computer cannot replace the experience of interacting with them in their natural environment.

As I listened to Grant Jones (http://www.jonesandjones.com/ ) talk about his youthful fascination with Puget Sound, and Jason Lubar ( http://www.business-services.upenn.edu/arboretum/uf/arbconsult-who.htm ) talk about playing in the Pennsylvania woods, I suspected that the harmonic wave that passed through me, was passing through many of my colleagues in the audience – environmentalists, landscape architects, engineers, and educators. How many of their career choices or avocations were influenced by mothers who said, “Go play outside?”

It’s never too late, no matter what your age or life experience. Go play outside and reconnect with nature.

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