The Motherhood Muse literary magazine features a variety of voices on the subject of motherhood, nature, and children. Each digital issue includes columns by women who share with us their experiences as mothers, writers, and women reconnecting with nature.
Happy Trails Family Nature Club is a very innovative step towards helping children and parents reconnect with nature. Please tell us about your organization! Why did you start it and what do you do?
Jodi: In 2006 I read Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. My life hasn’t been the same since! I have a background in Child Development, and had formerly worked in preschools and child care settings, but had no idea just how serious this issue of kids not playing outside is. It used to be taken for granted that children were playing in their backyards and parks, but the emerging research is showing that this is not the case. As I read about the consequences to kids’ overall development, and to the future of our planet, I knew I had to do something.
I didn’t want to wait around for program funding, or policy changes that would help more kids get outdoors, so I decided to just get a club going. In the past I had been doing what I could as a teacher to get kids interested in nature, but knew I needed to learn more. I began attending children and nature conferences, reading anything on the subject I could, and meeting with other like-minded folks. When the time was right, I developed a simple website, began checking out “wild” areas around the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metro area, and sent out emails to let others know where we were meeting.
I view my role as an instigator! The goal of Happy Trails is to help busy families carve out time to hang out in nature together. Research shows that in order for kids to grow up to be Earth-protectors, they need to play outside a lot, and also enjoy nature time with an adult they are close to, usually their parent. So my husband, kids and I introduce families to places they’ve never known about before, and model a laid-back, curious attitude when we’re out. Some parents are scared their kids will get hurt if they climb a tree, but if they see other parents relaxed and encouraging, they are less likely to freak out.
I plan outings where there are no play structures, in favor of kids climbing on logs, boulders, and the like. They walk through fields of grasses and muddy ponds, and peer under logs with flashlights on night hikes. The parents and kids are learning science without realizing it, and having a peaceful time together. We don’t need any experts with us in order to learn about the Earth. In fact, it is crucial that kids be left alone to develop their own ideas about and relationships with nature.
We go to nature centers, parks and scenic walkways. We’ve explored caves, river edges, grassy knolls and forests. We move at a leisurely pace, and let the kids take the lead. They are always the ones who come up with the best ideas on where to explore. These seemingly insignificant moments are actually more precious than gold, as they foster development in the kids’ intellect, social/emotional skills, creativity and spirituality. And we’re all having fun!
I invite other parents and grandparents to start a neighborhood nature club of their own. It can be really simple; all you need is to pack a few simple things like water and a first aid kit (we’ve never needed it!), and to wear good gear, including sunscreen or bug spray. Then just take a walk and let the kids do whatever they want, for as long as they want. It may take some thought to figure out where to go, but eventually you will come up with a way of being in nature that works for you and your kids.
TMM: As a mother and a writer, what obstacles do you encounter that hinder you from connecting with nature on a deeper level?
Jodi: The only obstacles are what I create on my own! I am guilty of taking on too many projects, or otherwise not managing my schedule as efficiently as I could, and therefore not getting outside enough. I have said that Happy Trails is just as much for me as it is for my family and community, as it gets me outside. But as a nature spiritualist, I know the value of spending time alone with the Earth, and I vow to make this a priority for myself this year.
TMM: What are a few things parents can do to help their children connect with nature?
Jodi: To be honest, the first thing they should do is give some thought to their own feelings about nature. If parents are telling kids, “Hey, go outside; it’s good for you!”, but then they themselves aren’t comfortable with dirt, bugs, or evening darkness, then those are the attitudes the kids will emulate. Even if a parent is squeamish about a particular element of outdoor life, they should try not to visit that issue on their kids. It’s OK to be honest and say, “Mom’s a bit wary of bees”, but that is different from forbidding the family from going on picnics because bees are known to attend. Also, be conscious of your comments about earthquakes, West Nile virus, melanoma, etc. Kids are often afraid to go outside because they view it as scary. On our outings, they often think they’ll encounter grizzly bears!
I invite parents and caregivers to model curiosity about their surroundings. It’s perfectly OK to not know the name of trees or birds; you can simply say, “Wow! Did you see that cool-looking bird swoop down?!” Or, “Huh. I wonder how that lump grew on the side of that tree.” Let your kids see you taking a deep, peaceful breath, or reaching out to touch something, anything. Tell them what you liked to do outside when you were a kid. It’s the attitude about nature that will guide them, more than specific activities.
Other research suggests that regular connections with nearby-nature is more valuable than rare trips to national parks. If you have a backyard, add some inexpensive elements that invite wildlife, and then talk about who shows up. Picnic in a park that has a trail nearby, and suggest a stroll (and then get off-trail for a while!). Teenagers will come to nature more readily if they have a friend and/or food! But if you’re looking to connect with your teen, nothing beats a walk. They will often open up about what’s going on with them during a stroll.
Most importantly, open up the family schedule, make nature time a priority, and limit electronic use. We are the parents, after all!
TMM: What is your role in Ten Moons Rising Holistic Family Education? Can you please tell us a little bit about this organization?
Jodi: I am honored to serve on the board of this amazing organization, and assist in planning and volunteering at events. Ten Moons Rising (TMR) is a labor of love of Monica Matos, a local woman with a vision to change the way birth happens in our Western culture. TMR seeks to raise awareness about the 30+ years of research from the field of Pre- and Perinatal Psychology (Birth Psychology) that shows that birth matters. We also offer supportive resources for those kids and adults who are still suffering from their births (which, astonishingly, is nearly everyone).
Humans are spiritual beings with consciousness from before we “come in,” and deserve to be welcomed in a gentle way. Studies show that the circumstances of our conception, gestation, birth, early feeding and more, become part of us (body, mind and spirit) on a cellular level. We then develop lifelong patterns of behavior and attraction based on our views of ourselves, and the world.
With caesarean rates at over 33% and rising, and other medical interventions the norm, (and the resultant high maternal and infant mortality rates) babies (and quite often, mothers) are traumatized by what should be a natural life passage. Nature knows what she’s doing, after all! We offer workshops, film screenings, an educational website (www.TenMoonsRising.org) and other public education resources to help families make informed decisions about all of their birth choices. I myself have experienced a intervention-free hospital birth, and a home water birth. I felt an empowerment and transformation from these experiences that have changed my life, and my children’s.
TMM: Can you please share with us one way nature nurtures who you are?
Jodi: When I am enjoying time alone in the natural world, I feel like I am merging more fully with Spirit. I gain perspective when life seems overwhelming, and feel more ready to deal with whatever I am experiencing in my life at the time (the good and the challenging). I feel alive!
TMM: Thank you Jodi for sharing with us your experiences and thoughts today. Be sure to check out Jodi's column "Mud-luscious Mama" in The Motherhood Muse.
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