When I was a boy, I would wander the woods unsupervised for hours on end. Rocks and logs were treasure chests with untold fortunes underneath. Creek beds were crisscrossing highways that mazed their way through the woods, and set booby-traps to protect my realm from intruders. These daily wanderings were not restricted to just the summertime - I was out exploring during the school year too. I would step off the bus, run inside and throw off my book bag, change into play clothes and run out the back door and be gone until dinner time. I learned a great deal about the natural world in my time spent out in the woods. Many things were learned through mistakes, like the time that I learned to identify poison ivy after crawling through a large patch of it. The most important thing spending my childhood outdoors taught me was how to just be in nature.
Many adults can look back reminiscently upon childhood ramblings in the great outdoors. Maybe your woods were a small stand of trees in the backyard, or perhaps your creek was a small pond or ditch where you caught frogs and crayfish. In one manner or another, we all have fond memories of playing outside when we were young. Whether we are aware of it or not, those memories have helped to shape us into the people that we are today. A recent survey of environmental leaders uncovered a common thread in their childhood: the majority of them had a great deal of unstructured creative play outdoors. Time spent outside as a child has proven to be a strong indicator of positive environmental ethics as an adult especially if a portion of that time is spent with an adult mentor. With children trading more and more time outside for time spent in front of a screen of some sort (be it television, iPad, iPod, or gaming consoles), one has to wonder where future environmental leaders will come from.
This fall, North Branch Nature Center will offer the North Branch Trekkers after school program designed to pull students in grades 4th through 7th away from the screens and get them outside exploring the natural landscape of Montpelier while practicing outdoor living skills, tracking, and wildlife monitoring. The program will be held on Wednesdays, from September 26ththrough December 19th and will be led by teacher and naturalist Ken Benton. The program will be based on site at the North Branch Nature Center, with frequent hikes into both Hubbard and North Branch River Parks. Please call 229-6206 for more info and to register.
Photo and text by Ken Benton