Spring, such a glorious and welcome season in our household. It’s so much easier to convince yourself that going outside is a good thing when there is sunshine, blossoms, and birdsong welcoming you.
I decided to ask my resident experts (Zoe, 3 years old, and Reuben, 6) “What are the most important things that people need to know about playing outside?”, explaining that I was writing an article for the newspaper. Right away Reuben spoke up, “Well, sticks are very important. They can be all sorts of different things, like a sword or a walking cane, and you can use them to build forts and stuff. They are good for fires too. And some sticks look like animals or letters or numbers, and some sticks are just interesting to look at closely.” Zoe (age 3) just looked at me blankly and said: “What are you talking about?” That was followed minutes later by, “Mom can I go outside and make some mud pies now?”. It is now 7:00 am and both of my kids are outside playing in the yard. This is a usual morning.
The reason my kids are playing outside at this moment, with unbridled creativity and enthusiasm (and no toys), is thanks to my Mom. When I was a child, she always encouraged my siblings and me to play outside in all weather and instilled in me a deep sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world. This is something I have been fortunate enough to share with my kids, and I hope they will pass on to theirs. But if you didn’t have my Mom growing up, it’s not too late— we are a part of nature, and connecting with the natural world around you is innate.
Remember that there is still a kid in you that wants (needs!) to make mud pies, collect sticks, watch the clouds pass overhead while lying on the soft, cool grass, and play hide and chase like the squirrels. Getting dirty, putting time aside, being an observer, using all your senses, and taking a deep breath are more important life skills than outdoor education skills. “In Wildness is the preservation of the world” – Thoreau
I am looking out my window. There are 5 mud pies with pinecone embellishments drying in the sun. Reuben has sticks in both hands and is deeply engaged in an imaginary world of his own. I can’t wait to go and join them.
In turns out there was one more child to consult with about writing this article— the little girl inside of me. The one who loved to read books in the highest branches of a cherry tree, who intimately explored every rock, tree, and bush near her secret hideout, she who had extensive and beautiful collections of rocks and feathers.
What is your fondest memory as a child in nature? Start there… and let the adventure continue as you journey along with the kids in your life.
Zavallennahh Huscroft Young is a mother, co-facilitator at Kootenay Nature School, board member of Creston Kids Outside Society, and a professional musician when not outside.
Fresh air is important, and children who learn to love nature will carry the positive feelings into adulthood. Everyone has heard about the benefits of children spending time in nature: when kids are outside, without walls, they can run, jump, explore, and act in developmentally appropriate ways. Fresh air is important, and children who learn to love nature will carry the positive feelings into adulthood. But for the average busy family, what does it look like to nurture a nature lover? Never fear! You don’t have to be a botanist or a wildlife biologist, and you don’t have to go far from home. By letting curiosity (yours and your child’s) guide your forays into nature, the simplest walk can turn into an adventure.
As the weather warms up and your family heads outside more often, aim to plan slow, meandering, outings without a goal or final destination in mind. Leave room, time and patience for exploring, sauntering, poking under logs and snacking in the sunshine! Your children will appreciate these unhurried excursions.
Experiment with outings where you bring no toys—watch how your child will find sticks, rocks, leaves and other ‘loose parts’ to play with. A simple bucket and shovel might suffice, even for the beach, and you can enjoy leaving behind armloads of toys! Kuskanook is a great beach not far from town with a huge variety of features to appeal to young children (jumbly logs to climb on, flowing streams to build bridges over).
You can model curiosity and enthusiasm for your child by bending down to check out a snail, a flower, feather or stone. Your child will catch on quickly, seeing your interest in the small things around you. Simple, open-ended questions like these can help you get your child’s enthusiasm flowing: Oh look! What’s this here? It feels so….it smells so… I wonder what happened here… Are there any clues if we look around? Tell me more about the _____ you found!
The best nature play is unstructured, light-hearted, non-coercive and open-ended. For instance, if you’re taking a break during a walk or sitting at a park, you can initiate a picture or pattern on the ground, made with the sticks, stones, leaves, berries and other things found around you. Your child might enjoy helping you hunt around for things to add to the design. Here are a few events happening around Creston in the coming weeks that you might enjoy participating in with your family: Gaelen Schnare, 11 year old bird expert, is hosting a kid-friendly bird excursion on Saturday May 12, as part of the Creston Valley Bird Festival. In June, Creston Kids Outside is offering a Ready, Set, Learn nature program in the Canyon-Lister School forest, for 3-5 year olds. Don’t forget about the annual Sturgeon Release on the Kootenay River, April 26 from 11:00-1:00. You can find details about all of these events on our website and Facebook pages: www.crestonkidsoutside.com and www.facebook.com/crestonkidsoutside
It’s that time of year….buzz, buzz, whack! Having young children and being a nature nut, I sometimes propel us outside into the whine of pesky insects despite the protests of my family. I’ve always abided by the saying, ’there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.’ Do mosquitos count as weather? In this country, probably…!
What’s a parent to do when the backyard or trail looks inviting, kids need to get outdoors and the air is a-buzz? This is one area where we can take a cue from our children, and consider our own reactions. Is your child happy enough to play, swat, play, swat? When my 5 year old complains, I try my darnedest to help him stay positive and if he’s happy collecting rocks or digging, to keep my own annoyance in check.
A parent who sounds quite anxious about mosquitos is bound to affect their child’s attitude. It might seem trivial, but a child who has a bit of grit in this regard is likely to spend more time outdoors in a variety of seasons and weather conditions, rather than dashing indoors at the first bug they see. If parents are prone to complaining about mosquitos (and rain, and cold weather…) before you know it, inside starts to seem like the most appealing place for everyone!
A few ideas might help you get through mosquito season with the kids: aim to dress everyone in light long-sleeved shirts and lightweight pants, with socks and shoes. Add a little bug cream/spray of your choice. You can also purchase bug shirts or even head-nets. Of course, there are times when you might want to avoid the worst of it, like at sundown, in shaded areas or near creeks. If at a beach or park try to help your child see their options before dashing inside or back to the car. ‘I notice it’s a little breezier over here, and I bet the wind will keep the bugs down.’ Or ‘Let’s move over here into the sun, because it seems like the mosquitos are enjoying this shady area!’ Or, like the fellow in the picture here, find some giant leaves to become mosquito swatters!
For my son, I have found that learning about their place (yes, they do have one!) in the ecosystem helps him to be a bit more understanding. Did you know that mosquitos pollinate plants and drink nectar? And only the female mosquito bites? Some fish eat their larvae and they are food for dragonflies and bats. So when my son groans, ’I wish mosquitos just weren’t on the earth,’ I can sympathize that they are annoying, and then talk about the food chain and why on earth they do exist. Look out for those helpful dragonflies, coming to a backyard near you! Creston Kids Outside is holding an AGM Thursday, June 28 at the Creston Library. AGM at 7:00 followed at 7:30 by a presentation and information session about the Kootenay Nature School Program.
Good old-fashioned fun at the River
Down along the river and past the swimming hole you can find your piece of mind with just a fishin' pole. And you can walk the river for miles and miles on end and never stop believin' in that dream around the bend.
Every spring as snow melt starts coming down from the mountains, and water levels around Creston rise, my son and I start thinking about the Goat River. We love driving over the Highway 21 bridge in spring and craning our necks to see what’s happening, chomping at the bit for freshet to be done so we can start going down to play. Creston is fortunate to have this great water access so close to town. For us, it’s a playground, learning place and good old fashioned swimming hole. When we have the time, it’s easy to pass 3 hours down there, net and bucket in hand, wandering through the ever-changing sloughs and braided channels.
One of our favourite things to do is watch the caddis fly larvae crawl along under the water, cleverly protected in their pebble cases. These little critters provide endless conversation for my son and I (How do they build their cases? What do they eat? Will they come out of their shells?), as do the water striders, minnows, frogs and snakes. We wonder if the flecks in the sand are gold and collect interesting rocks. Thinking bigger, my son loves to ask questions about where the water is coming from, and we have great safety conversations about river features like eddies, sweepers and strainers (log jams either above or below the water).
Perhaps the best part of the River is the simple, carefree, old-fashioned, kids-being-kids play that happens. The other day my son sat on an upturned log and paddled it around a small pool with a piece of bark—so proud! He found a frog, caught minnows and released them, wading around with glee and confidence. Sometimes we make pretend campfires, see how far we can throw stones or look for animal tracks in the mud. Downstream from the bridge, there is a great pile of logs for climbing on that often becomes a spaceship or an airplane.
Of course, safety should be the first priority if you plan to bring young children to the River. With so many interesting things to explore along the river’s edge, there is little need to play right beside the strong main current. If you do, make sure to stay right beside your child. Talk to them about how strong the current is (you can make a game of this lesson by tossing sticks in to see how fast they are carried away). Bring a PFD for your child if you have concerns about them playing near water. Have fun, stay cool and enjoy the ever-changing nature of the Goat with your child!
Nurturing a Love of Nature--Indoors!
It’s hot. It’s smoky. Fires are looming nearby. You might still be getting outside with your children despite all of the above, or you might be hunkered down in an air-conditioned house waiting out the heatwave.
Even if your family is spending lots of time indoors this summer, there are still things you can do to encourage enthusiasm for nature and nature literacy. According to Robert Macfarlane, author of ‘The Lost Words,’ everyday nature words are starting to disappear from dictionaries and children’s vocabulary Words like acorn, fern, willow, newt and willow. You can imagine the words taking their places in the dictionaries (think, blog, cut-and-paste, voice mail). It’s crucial for adults to model an interest in nature, so children can experience that role modelling from a young age.
When adults demonstrate wonder, enthusiasm and ask intriguing questions (“I wonder why this pinecone was closed yesterday and it’s open today…”) kids will get the hint and let their curiosity flow. Did you know that Kingfisher Books has a great ‘nature’ section, chock-full of books of all shapes and sizes? There are field guides and pocket-guides, books about rocks, mushrooms, plants, birds, insects, mammals—you name it. I usually have a hard time pulling myself away! Stop by and see what catches your child’s interest.
In my experience, children love perusing field guides and they can take you down a rabbit-trail of learning. You can flip through the pictures together, oohing and ahhing at an interesting bird or mushroom, or when you recognize something from your yard and learn a new plant name. Plant books will provide interesting blurbs about cultural/medicinal uses of plants, and a rock guide might inform you that a common mineral is used right in your house somewhere. Along with field guides, you can provide your kids with magnifying glasses and maybe even a child-friendly microscope to examine bugs, slices of vegetables or other interesting finds. All of these things can nurture wonder, enthusiasm, questioning and interest in nature.
What else can you do to nurture a love of nature this summer? Close to home, kids love to set up tents in the backyard, striking up imaginary campfires with pretend marshmallows to boot. You can pick up an assortment of baskets at the Gleaner’s together, and embark on a mission to collect natural materials like pinecones, rocks for stacking, branches to cut wood cookies. Bring these indoors, into your garage or onto your front porch, and see how your child plays with them.
During online time, you can help find your child nature-based shows, apps and games. Check out WildLab Bird, LeafSnap and Planet Earth. Eventually, fire season will end, and kids can get back into mud puddle and forest play!
If you have a young tyke (3-5), there are a few spaces available in the Kootenay Nature School program, which starts Sept 12 in the Canyon-Lister School forest. Visit www.crestonkidsoutside.com for more information.
It’s back to school time, and some eager Creston children will soon be headed to their forested classrooms.
It’s back to school time, and some eager Creston children will soon be headed to their forested classrooms, come rain or shine! Nature Explorers for Homeschoolers (K-4) will start meeting behind the Wynndel Hall on Sept 27, and Kootenay Nature School (3-5) starts this week. The Canyon-Lister Elementary School forest is a jewel for CLES students, Nature School preschoolers, and families who take part in the spring Ready, Set, Learn Nature Program. Thank you to whoever had the foresight to preserve it, years ago. With 2.5 acres of fenced forest, wildlife, trails for meandering, hills for slipping and sliding—we think it’s a kid’s dream come true. As an outdoor educator, I spend a fair amount of time connecting with outdoor programs across Canada and North America, for research and networking purposes, I thought I would take this week to talk about the ‘forest school’ and ‘nature connection’ movements. Creston’s Kootenay Nature School is part of a global trend to provide increased outdoor time for children of all ages, and opportunities for kids to feel at home in nature. When you see a video online or hear about a forest school in Canada, or Norway, or Germany, there are a few key things they usually have in common. First, they focus on providing children with regular and repeated access to the same forest setting, a practice that allows children to really connect with a patch of forest (doesn’t have to be big!). Kids might come to have a favourite tree during their quiet ‘sit spot’ time, or know exactly which stump they want to turn into a fire station during active play. They learn where birds nest and apples grow, and where to find the best worms. They feel pride and connection to their little patch of forest, something which research shows can carry on into adulthood. Another commonality is that children use mostly loose parts for open-ended play and inquiry, such as sticks, rocks, leaves and whatever else they can find in the forest. At Kootenay Nature School, we provide buckets, trowels, ropes, magnifying glasses and a few extra resources like clipboards for drawing, pulleys and occasionally craft materials. Children leave their toys at home and have a blast using their imaginations. Here in the Kootenays the movement is growing strong: Cranbrook offers a drop-in nature program for families with young children, and kids in Nelson can attend ‘The Forest Path.’ Fernie has it’s own Forest School, and Rossland has One Tree Adventures. All of these programs have been developed in the last few years, responding to an increased desire for kids to spend more time outdoors, from the youngest ages. Thank you to the Rotary Club of Creston for providing a donation towards nature books and field guides for this year’s programs. We love reading in the Tipi and incorporating literacy into our programs. Thank you also to the Gleaner’s and Columbia Basin Trust who have provided grants for operational expenses this year.