As early as I can remember I’ve loved being outdoors and playing in the yard or in the woods behind our home. Growing up in a large family with lot’s of cousins, we would disappear for hours into the woods exploring. It’s one of my happiest memories growing up, and I think it’s played a major part in my love for nature and the outdoors. How can we teach the next generation to have the same love and admiration for nature?
I think the key is starting young. Growing up my sister and I were always playing in the yard barefoot with our radio flyer wagon strapped to our boxer Rocky as he pulled us around the yard, imagining we were discovering distant lands. We both had active imaginations and would pretend we were explorers traveling the country looking for a new home, or Native Americans living in the woods with our tribe. Rocky was a good sport and always happily participated in our make believe and games. He was extremely protective of us and his protection gave us the confidence to explore the woods behind our home for hours without the fear of imaginary wild animals or monsters.
My family would also take multiple trips to Lake Lanier during the summer for camping and boating trips. Our parents also made it a point to send us to summer camp every single summer, so that we could enjoy a week or two of fun. Having both come from the inner city they never had the chance to experience summer camp and worked hard to make sure my sister and I did. I later realized in college that most of my peers never went to sleep away summer camp growing up! This came as a surprise to me, I really thought that EVERYONE got to experience camping, horse back riding, hiking and white water rafting in the summer. Looking back I’m so grateful to my parents for sending us to camp each year.
I know for a fact that my love of being outdoors was fostered in these early years, primarily during my summers at Camp Calvin. When I have children of my own I know that I will take them hiking and camping every chance I get. I hope that I want sacrifice like my parents to be able to afford to send them to summer camp every year. Until then I make sure to take my niece Gabby hiking with me as often as I can. My sister and I joke often that Gabby is the perfect mix of our personalities. She’s an ultimate girly-girl like my sister, but she has an amazing curiosity and sense of discovery like I did at her age. She loves hiking and camping and being outdoors with me and Rocko.
Whenever we hike I use it as an opportunity to have fun and spend quality time with Gabby, but to also teach her the importance of loving and preserving nature. With each hike I make it a game to find trash and discuss why it’s important to take care of our national parks and trails. I teach her that we are visiting the homes of the animals who live there and we have to respect their home and help keep it clean. We also review safety and I am working on teaching her how to read trail maps and identify trail markers while we explore. This October we plan on taking Gabby on her first camping trip. She is so incredibly excited, and I love that she enjoys being outside. I hope that I can continue to guide and foster her love for the outdoors, to become another POC who chooses to opt-outdoors.