Our children need to get out of their homes, out of their comfort zones and out into the wild to “feel” life in nature. Seeing the night sky dotted with a billion stars or hearing the many calls of the birds and beasts out at night or smelling the various fragrances of the trees and plants, native to each specific area are just some of the ways they can experience nature and remember it. Physically being in the wild is what experts say is most needed to prevent the “nature deficit disorder” that is creeping up on our technologically savvy children these days as per Richard Louv, the bestselling author of Last Child in the Woods. Children spend immensely more time with technology than with nature these days, and it’s no surprise to see increasing numbers of children on diabetic medication, obesity checks and students who write that cows hibernate in the winter, that there are too many rocks in the Grand Canyon and that there is no difference between a horse and a moose!
But just getting out and playing is not enough, says Kristine Lambert of the Playrangers program in the UK. Kids need “play that’s not set up according to an adult agenda – in forests and open spaces, not designated play areas. Children set their own challenges, assess their own risks, take their own responsibility, and learn from them.” Our National Parks are the best for unrestricted, unstructured play where there is no limit on creativity, imagination and most of all adventure. Unless we can have our children experience the beauty and majesty of Allah’s creation, they won’t develop an affinity for it, feel ownership or responsibility of it as the vicegerents that we are, nor desire positive change regarding it.
Rejuvenating young minds and spirits fatigued from mounds of books, our 2500 mile trip around the South Western United States served us well as we learned, lived and loved what each national park that we visited had to offer. As our family moved eastward, discovering and admiring the many parks and places of this beautiful region, my kids worked on earning their Junior Ranger badges at each stop. This wonderful program put in place by the National Parks Service teaches history, geography, geology, biology, safety, archeology, environmentalism and much more when visiting any one of the 425 protected parks and monuments in the United States.
In order to excite, teach and create a lasting memory at each stop, I encouraged my kids to complete their age appropriate junior ranger program. Apart from learning how the Native Americans lived in harmony with the earth at Montezuma National Monument, how stalagmites and stalactites are different and need to be cared for at Tempanogos National Park, how Zion National Park and the CCC program put food on the table for families during the Great Depression, and how plate tectonics got the bottom of the ocean on top of a desert in the Grand Canyon, we walked away with memories and a real world education that surpasses any badge or award they earned. Of course, it felt nice to be sworn in at each park after all the work they put into learning things that could otherwise be overlooked, but the inspiration, the awesomeness and the majesty that we experienced cannot be matched.
While our family prepares for our next big trip, we continue to work on a local level, visiting some of the State Parks and reconnecting with nature. We really can’t afford to wait as more and more parks and monuments are closing down due to financial constraints! We need to reconnect with nature as this is one of the most spiritual experiences we can have. We have to teach our little ones as the Native Americans did, that “we do not inherit this earth from our ancestors, instead we borrow it from our children”, so let’s show them what is theirs.
References & tips:
Many national parks offer free admission days.
Visit http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm for more info.
A great buy is the NPS Annual Pass for $80, valid for a full calendar year. It gets you into all NPS parks and monuments for free as long as you have the cardholder present. Up to four adults, and all children in the vehicle.
Many National and State Parks now offer a virtual ranger badge. This may be a starting point to get interest ignited if your family is weary of the great outdoors. Check out
http://www.nps.gov for more info.