The Outside on the Inside
by Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Writer and Consultant
We all have a favorite toy. Mine was a black-and-white dog doll, my companion when I was a baby and toddler. I still have it, over 60 years later. I loved it then and I do now. That dog was my buddy, but I didn’t learn much from carrying it around: at least not that I remember. Later, there were toys that I learned from during play. But I don’t remember any as distinctly as I do that dog.
A few years later, as my dad and I lay on the sand under the vast, starry sky over Cape Cod, we watched for “shooting stars.” Back then I consulted books to learn that those meteorites we saw were smaller than a pea. Later, I learned about meteor showers. I still hear the shouts of “WOW” and “THERE’S ONE” from my two best friends as we witnessed the incredible Perseid shower of 1968 above a secluded pond. I’ve watched for shooting stars over my lifetime, and seen many. Each carries a trace of Cape Cod and my dad. This is the depth of the learning and relationships inspired by early experiences in nature when they are shared with adults and friends.
And this is why so many passionate advocates for connecting children with nature are people whose own childhoods were blessed with significant outdoor play. We harbor deeply personal memories that may not be introduced to children who aren’t exposed to nature. We’re afraid that a profoundly meaningful type of relationship in our lives will be absent in the lives of today’s children.
Now, I’m not knocking toys or indoor play. Toys are great. Many toys teach. Social and other skills are learned when toys and friends are combined. Indoor and outdoor play are healthy complements. Yet, for many of today’s children, one side is missing.
Time spent outdoors with your child, engaging with nature, is an investment in learning and relationship. Just as small, regular deposits in a bank account ensure steady growth and long-term rewards, daily contacts with nature ensure a lifetime of learning and memories.
Please feel free to share special memories from your relationship with nature in the comments section below. These can be memories from your childhood, or memories-in-the-making from your current relationships with children. We can all learn from them.