Published in True North's June 2010 ePathfinder Newsletter
Kids growing up in Maine are fortunate to have access to so many enriching natural spaces to learn, grow and explore. Childhood is a time when learning is happening faster than any other time in the life span. In fact, the young brain is bathed in the neurochemistry of activation and excitement and as a result, it LOVES the novel experience. There is now an abundance of research establishing that neural connections in the brain are created by experiences of connection and relationships with other people and the environment.
Imagine then, the learning that happens when a young child explores a tidal pool, digs holes at the beach to search for marine treasures, snuggles with his or her parent on a blanket under a starry sky, or goes camping and watches the sparks of a campfire fly away into the night. Learning from the Natural world teaches children there is a big world out there and they are an integral part of it. In Joseph Chilton’s Pearce’s newest book Death of Religion and the Rebirth of Spirit: A Return to the Intelligence of the Heart, (2007) he explains that children who grow up in Nature will protect it fiercely where children who grow up surrounded by television, video games and other high tech entertainment will protect those at all costs.
Family time in Nature also provides children with an experience of play that deepens relationships and models a healthy lifestyle. Children who spend more time outside have lower rates of obesity, and have healthier lifestyles in the long term. And of course, being outside is healthy for grown-ups too.
Along with play in the natural world come the biting bugs, opportunities for skinned knees, sunburns, splinters, and other minor or more serious problems. Most are easy to prevent with common sense safety approaches. There are safe alternatives for sunscreens and insect repellants for kids. Because deer ticks in Maine are more apt to carry the spirochetes that cause Lyme Disease, it is important to inspect kids daily for ticks and if found, contact a health care provider to help decide about a treatment approach. Bicycle helmets protect growing brains and insisting on their use develops healthy habits that last into adulthood.
Carefully supervising children around swimming pools, lakes, streams, and oceans as well as teaching children about water safety, saves lives. Judicious use of sunscreen in childhood potentially lowers skin cancer rates over the lifespan. And, a little bit of daily summertime sun exposure ensures absorption of the all important Vitamin D, so important for developing bones, brains, and immune systems.
Finally, summertime in Maine means an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, and berries. When children are given experiences of learning about where food comes from they will be more likely to try new foods. There’s no better way in my mind to encourage finicky eaters to try those ‘yucky looking’ vegetables when they can pluck them from the garden in their own backyard. The miracle of watching a seed sprout, or observing the lifecycle of seed to food teaches children about life itself and provides a fun activity as well. And, growing a backyard garden, visiting local farms to see real chickens, pigs, cows and goats, or picking strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries at one of the many local U-Pick-It farms, all develop a greater understanding that food doesn’t just come from grocery stores.
So, this summer, grab your kids or grandkids, get outside, and give the enriching experience of sharing the natural world with a child! It seems to me that the healthiest kids have in their lives the ingredients of fresh air, sunshine, exercise and love. I can’t think of a better way to model a healthy lifestyle for children than to get outside, explore, play, stretch a young mind, and most important, have fun! The best part is, the memories will last a lifetime.
<- Back to Pathfinder Archives