By Guest Blogger Lynne Dardanell

How many times have we all said this to our little ones as they clamor for something “fun” to do? They utter the famous, or rather, infamous words, “I’m B-O-R-E-D, there’s nothing to do.” How many times have you heard yourself say “Find something to do. Go outside and play!” How many of us as adults fondly remember being “turned loose” on the Great Outdoors in our youth? We were left to wander the fields, explore the woods, and make our own fun. Our parents would tell us not to come back until dinner time, or better yet – dark.

Those days have passed, and that ship has sailed. Children are no longer set free to explore nature to their heart’s desire. It is up to us – parents, caregivers, neighbors, friends – to demonstrate the wonder and the magic of all that nature holds.

A bold blue and black butterfly that flutters about, so very close! A bright yellow dandelion or buttercup that you place under your chin and ask “Want to know if I love butter?” A honeysuckle bloom so sweet it tastes like golden honey. A big fuzzy creature that resembles a wooly worm. (But wait – don’t those only come out in fall! Further research unveils it’s true identity – a giant leopard moth caterpillar!) A potato bug, or “roly-poly” found under a rock. A box turtle wandering around in the yard. A bird’s nest built into a shallow tree. These treasures from nature are so simple yet can provide so much entertainment and awe.

As my own children sit inside on a gorgeous day, playing with dolls who have their own miniature iphones (gasp!), I sit here dismayed. They are missing the chirping birds, the clucking squirrels, the chipmunks running about – all in our own back yard. Luckily these babes of mine are young enough to still be lulled outside. It just takes the dangling of a carrot so to speak. “Hey, let’s go out and plant those sunflower seeds!” Or “Who wants to go look for turtle eggs in the back field?” Once out there, the nature discoveries take over. The inside games, even the dolls brought outside as play props, play second fiddle.

As adults, the “go outside” mentality can often be a difficult one to master, especially on these humid days. Dishes called out to be done, meals need to be prepared,  household chores must be attended to. For our family, going outside often means all of us going outside – together.

Just the other day I had my own little “get outside, be in-the-moment” epiphany. My five-year-old daughter had a friend over and I was banking on a productive day while they entertained themselves. However they wanted some adult company for their tree house picnic. After a few moments of hemming and hawing, I reluctantly gave up what was next on my to-do list. I resigned myself to joining them in the play house for lunch. Once up there, shaded by the tree canopy and looking down on nature below us, I had the most peaceful lunch ever. I enjoyed the birdsong and the company of people who don’t yet know what a to-do list is. I felt transformed, if only for a short while.

I’ve witnessed the same such epiphany in children too. I’ve watched them make the transition from desiring indoor activities to truly experiencing joy in the outdoors.

A few weeks ago, my daughter accompanied me on a nature outing I was helping lead. Her choice had been to attend her sister’s soccer game or come with me. She chose the latter because she viewed it as the lesser of two evils. Waiting until the last possible minute to get out of the car, she was slow to begin her nature appreciation journey. However, as we ventured further into what I fondly call “the real world,” her senses began to lead the way. Finding critters in the stream, discovering a centipede that when picked up, and traversing various terrain through the forest – all of these things quickly captured her attention. I knew the experience was taking hold when our hiking guide asked, “Should we turn around and head back or keep hiking?” My daughter was the first one to respond, “Keep hiking!”

As parents we all try to do what’s best for our children, and our families. I encourage each of you to take the time, even just a few moments here and there when the temps are cooler, to go outside, explore those natural wonders, and by all means “keep hiking.” You’ll be glad you did.

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