Second Wind: Connecting our grandchildren to the natural world |

Second Wind: Connecting our grandchildren to the natural world

I wish there were a school for grandparents – Grandparenting 101.

Because sometimes we grandparents wander cluelessly through the family landscape, wanting to help our grandchildren grow up well, but not knowing how to do it in today’s world. Well, after 12 grandchilden and a little clueless wandering myself, I have finally gotten a few clear ideas about how to help.

What I see happening: Children are becoming isolated from the natural world. Reality is a video game and outside is the distance between the family car and the front door. Activity is structured, competitive sports on manicured fields dominate the “leisure” hours and it seems to me most every kid hour is accounted for. No time for daydreaming or just wandering around the world.

Well, there are fewer woods in which to wander, catch frogs and build forts. Then there are the media scaring the bread pudding out of parents who see stranger danger behind every bush and West Nile virus in every bird. And thus the kids can become shut-ins, scared of the great outside and turning into nature illiterates. So, OK, they may learn in school about the forests of the Amazon, but can they name the trees in their own backyard?

Now, if people don’t appreciate Mother Nature, they are not likely to be good stewards of the environment. Even our generation, we who did more in the outdoors than our grandchildren, are not the most perfect of nature’s caretakers and I wonder what’s coming next. Can people who have only seen green through a window, go green, vote green? Time will tell.

So what can grandparents do?

Plenty. And what works will depend on the particular child and his/her inborn inclinations. Here are some things to try to connect children to the natural world:

Gardening. Some kids will be fascinated by what grows in your backyard. Big hits at our house: Herbs like mint and lemon verbena, cherry tomatoes, lavender, the spaghetti sauce tree (bay) and pomegranates (though the last should be broken open outside).

Cooking. This is one way to teach where food comes from. For instance, some kids think whipped cream comes from a can and it is a great science experiment to have them take out an eggbeater and whip the cream that comes from the cow. Then they eat their experiment.

Fishing. Bring out their inner hunter by taking them fishing. Some kids will love this, others hate it. Then try something else like…

Berry-picking. If you grow berries or really know a wild blackberry from a poison berry, take them berrying.

Sky-watching. This has gone over big at our casa. Getting up in the middle of the night and watching meteor showers seems like a great adventure to three generations of us. (These astronomy lessons can be supplemented by the great NASA images on the Internet.)

Scouts. Depends on the program – but can be a good way to learn about the outdoors.

Summer camp. This depends on the summer camp. Some are about computers and weight loss, not the outdoors. Check out the program and send them with someone they know so they won’t get homesick.

Camping with the grandchildren. Some kids love this and others wish they were at the mall. If you are going to camp, make sure the kids are dressed for the weather and that you have all the needed equipment. Give each a flashlight to check out monsters and other night visitors.

Hiking. Again, it depends on the kid. Some will think it an adventure, others a death march.

Pets. Though the trend seems to be to try and make humans out of pets – dress them, send them to school, give them little beds – they are non-human animals unburdened by civilization and are thus instructive about mammalian behavior. I like to point out the way dogs are superior to us – their sense of smell, their capacity for direction, their utter faithfulness and lack of judgment – but kids seem more interested in their reproductive antics. Whatever works.

Words for the Wise

To get more ideas, go to http://www.sciencenewsforkids or Read Last Child in the Woods: Saving Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. And know that you are doing right by your grandkids when you become an advocate for the world outside their window.


Mel Walsh is a gerontologist and certifiable geezer. Her book of advice for older women, Hot Granny, is available at The Bookseller in Grass Valley and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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