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NATURE: A GRANDPARENT'S BEST FRIEND

About the Author

Two passions fuel Avery’s work – connecting people with nature and organizing. Her work has taken her into boardrooms, city council and law enforcement offices, juvenile justice programs, neighborhood meetings, classrooms, and living rooms where she has witnessed the power people have to inspire each other and take action when they explore ways to integrate the natural world into their programs and lives. Avery is a C&NN Senior Associate and member of the Grassroots Leadership Team.

I’m new to grandparenting. But I’m learning that nature can be a grandparent’s best friend. Three years ago, when my sister and I were each blessed with our first grandchild, we quickly realized that one of the best ways we could support the sleep-deprived parents and bond with our then-infant grandchildren was to take them outside. Nothing else came close to soothing them and us at the same time! And with us outside the parents got the benefit of a little more breathing space inside.

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Otis, Kaia, and Grandma’s shadow

Kaia and Otis are now 2 1/2 and 3 and our time together is filled with outdoor adventures. From very early on we joined their parents in modeling our love of nature. Kaia, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, was introduced to the trees in her backyard when she was three days old. Otis, born in Brooklyn, NY, spent lots of time in the city parks and camping in upstate NY.

We talk to and about the plants, trees, animals and insects we encounter as friends who have feelings. Now Kaia hugs trees, pets plants, says hello to the birds flying overhead and thinks rocks are BEEUtiful.

The outdoors provides fertile ground for Otis’s vivid imagination. He digs for dinosaur fossils and turns a tree stump into a boat. He uses a stick as his fishing pole.  He has discovered that homes of all sorts are ‘built’ under the branches of trees. It is heartwarming to see and hear them embrace the furry, feathered, winged, rooted world around them as friends and family.

By spending time outdoors with Kaia I am getting to know her in ways that are not as easy when we are indoors.

I am learning what attracts her, what scares her, what delights her, what she is wary of, and where she is naturally adventuresome.

Anything that moves and anything that she can move fascinates her. Her boundless energy frequently moves her at the speed of light. That can be a challenge inside four walls. Indoors, she wants my full attention and participation. I enjoy a good game of chase and appreciate listening to music, but I must admit after the tenth round of chase and the third round of Basho Mosko’s rap version of Eensy Weensy Spider, I am ready to just ‘be’ for a few minutes.

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Avery and Kaia

Outdoors, Kaia has a chance to spread her wings. She leads the expedition to observe the bugs crawling on the pavement and then proudly announces, “I can go by myself” as she ventures off to explore the space between the side of her house and the 10 foot hedge that hides the house next door. Perfect, I think to myself as she ventures into the vast reaches of her yard and I get a chance to sit down and catch my breath.

I’ve also learned that avoiding the late afternoon pre-dinner meltdown or any other two-year-old display of displeasure is best accomplished by stepping outside.

And then there is bedtime. “I’m not tired, I don’t want to sleep” are challenging words coming from a two-year-old whose face and temperament indicate otherwise. An enthusiastic invitation to say goodnight to the moon, stars and night sky can head off a full blown tantrum when she is looking a little delirious but does not want the fun to end. The night sky has a soothing, calming effect on both of us. It seems to open up the space for dreams and possibilities. Of course I could always put her in her car seat and drive around for 15 minutes, but that is not nearly as calming for me!

When Kaia was born, I knew taking her outside would be good for her, but little did I know what it would do for me.

In addition to bringing more fun and sunshine into my life, it has reawakened one of my earliest and fondest memories of my grandmother in her garden. Somewhere between the cucumbers and rhubarb I knew she belonged to me, I belonged to her and we both belonged to the garden.

I am blessed to witness and participate in the outdoor explorations of Kaia and Otis.

I feel the past, present and future merge. They are helping me remember and see with new eyes. Being new at this, I’d love to hear what you have discovered about grandparenting outdoors!

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Download your Grand Ideas in Nature bookmark with tips for outdoor activities from the Children & Nature Network.

GRAND IDEAS: 21 Great Ways Grandparents and Grandfriends Can Connect Children to the Natural World

How Can I Encourage my Grandchildren to Enjoy Nature?

 

7 Comments

  1. What a great article and so true! I started the same way. I took the grand-kids outside to give their Mom a break, but soon found that being outside with them and watching them discover the natural world was the greatest thing ever! Like most of us, I imagine, I never had time to spend significant blocks of time outdoors with my own kids, which is part of why I think it is so rewarding to have the chance to do so today.

    This experience changed my life, Avery. it ignited such excitement for outdoor learning that I started a new venture and a new career. After 30 years developing software, I did a 180 and started Science Camps of America, a non-profit organization with the mission of providing outdoor learning experiences for kids. We are opening this summer with a Science Camp for Teens on the Big Island of Hawaii.

    And it never would have happened had I not taken my grandsons outdoors.

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  2. WHat a beautiful post – thank you! Elders are so vital to any healthy family/community, and play an essential role as a guide and keeper of great stories and experiences of their own nature connection. For those of you in the Seattle area, check out our new summer camp program for Grandparents and Kids ages 4-6. This is a first for us: grands and kids will learn nature awareness games, activities and crafts to make real and deep connections with nature and each other, while having a great time learning about the mystery and magic of the local ecology. Each day will include time together and a brief time apart so the grandparents can learn some of our acclaimed Coyote Mentoring tools to carry forward into their families’ lives. Wish us luck getting this new and importnat program off the ground!

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  3. In the same world where some children survive only because their families teach them how nature can meet their needs,other children live in a world where they grow to expect that they can buy whatever they desire, and sadly may never experience the wonder and reverence that nature inspires. How fortunate you and your grandchildren are to share a path into amazement and familiarity and comfort with things that grow, things that move and things that connect you to all that is.
    As I watch clouds float across the sky and morning glories climbing as they will, and peonies blooming profusely in a garden,I can feel again with gratitude the influence of happy days spent in my grandmothers’ gardens

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  4. Lovely sharing of your time with the children. How lucky they are to feel your wisdom by your love of nature. I remember holding my grammy’s hand and feeling the breeze blow my face and hair and having a sense that all was well in life. Its a beautiful legacy to give to your family.

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  5. I love this! Thank you for the perspective, too, of how outside time is helpful to child & caregiver… As a mom of a 7 and 11 year old I can really identify with this! Sometimes I forget, how much easier it is when they are happily exploring outside and I can just relax and breathe. We have found a good tree-climbing spot at a park nearby, and it is such a good feeling to watch my kids relating to those trees, just being there and enjoying themselves… Wonderful!

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  6. I am Avery’s granddaughter Kaia’s “other” grandma, and feel blessed to be part of an extended family that so totally embraces connecting our kids to nature. When Kaia’s dad was little, we spent most of our vacations camping, or up in a cabin in Mendocino county. As Kaia has been growing up, it is joyful to watch her have the same level of comfort, connection and love about being outdoors. as well as the extension of this into next generation.

    This past week, Avery and Kaia went shopping for Kaia to choose some vegies and flowers, which they brought over. The three of us planted them in my backyard together. What fun! Kaia’s little hands insistently digging dirt with the trowel, and Avery and I trying to run interference for the seedlings Kaia had already planted. And then it is time to water the new plantings – NOW!

    There was something about the two grandma’s together with Kaia that felt to me so embracing of Kaia and of nature. I think it is important to remember that the smallest thing can be the platform (a leaf!), and how much the relationship is a part of the whole.

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  7. What a lovely story about grandparenting outdoors. I have twin grandchildren 3 years old, a boy and a girl. You’ve got to keep them occupied and together if there’s going to be any peaceful calm time together. You’re so right about how calming and how interesting it is for 3 year olds to go outside into nature. Emma loves caterpillars and worms and baby birds. Ethan loves to pick up leaves and acorns and berries of any kind. But most of all they like to go on hikes. They’ll go around the same places over and over again with open eyes. They love the repetition. I live on an acre and a half and they trapse over every inch of it with me in tow. What a treat for all three of us. I pray for good weather.

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