It was one of those weeks. The budget news for our state was terrible. School-based funding for field trips to environmental education programs such as Inside the Outdoors would be almost non-existent. Adding to that stress, I had four grants to write, multiple meetings to attend, and a presentation to prepare. I was feeling overwhelmed and stumped. My dilemma: the words I was writing had to convince complete strangers that connecting children and families to nature creates profound change in society.
I needed some help so I decided to visit the Children and Nature Network (C&NN) website for inspiration from other nature-based education providers. After a couple of clicks, I found Richard Louv’s March 21, 2011 article, The Reality of Nature in Difficult Times. As I read through Richard’s story about a trip he and his son took the afternoon of 9/11, I was reminded for the power of nature to heal and restore the soul. I thought of my childhood in rural Ohio and the hours I spent wandering the woods near my house. I played, I imagined, and I learned. Thanks to Richard’s article, I knew where to go for the words that would allow me to convey the importance of nature to children and families.
I took a break from spreadsheets, planning documents, and grant reports and headed outdoors. I work at Inside the Outdoors’ Rancho Soñado, an environmental education site that sits at the edge of the Cleveland National Forest. I watched as a group of 5th graders from a school in Santa Ana hiked a trail for the very first time. This group of children had unplugged from their video games to play a different game – they were hunting for hidden creatures rustling in the underbrush. I could see the excitement on their faces as “ecosystem” turned from a word in a science book to a nervous lizard, a fire-scarred tree, a fish-filled pond, and a smelly woodrat nest. These children were playing, imagining, and learning, just as I had when I was a child. At that moment, my dilemma was solved.
I share this story with you because it is a clear example of how being part of a web of connectedness is important to all of us. Our ability to learn and to look for creative solutions is often limited by what we know as individuals. My web of connectedness consists of many different resources, but some of the most valuable are those I access through the Children and Nature Network. As I said, I work for Inside the Outdoors. This is an organization that has been around since 1974 and reaches 159,000 children each year in five Southern California counties. On that day in April when I looked for resources from C&NN, I am sure that I felt just as alone as a small environmental education provider in a rural community and as overwhelmed as a brand new program that is just in the planning stages.
Richard Louv inspired the launch of Inside the Outdoors Community Programs when Pam Johnson, the program’s administrator, heard him speak in 2006. Since then, C&NN has served as a resource and mentor for those of us working for Inside the Outdoors. Our Service-Learning programs, which have been recognized nationally by the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, were successful with help from Mimi Wickless of the Lincoln Childrens Zoo, a C&NN partner we met at the 2009 Grassroots Gathering. We were able to leverage C&NN partner successes and avoid pitfalls by connecting with C&NN grassroots initiatives that forged the path for us. We have also served as a resource for others such as families in Orange County, a nature education provider in Michigan, and a teacher in Kentucky – who found us through C&NN.
For every parent, teacher, or provider out there struggling for a way to connect your child or community to nature, my advice is this: it takes a village to raise a child (or to start an initiative that connects children to nature). Rely on our village – the Children and Nature Network.