I recently read a friends article on introducing children and families to Nordic skiing. It brought me back to when I first learned how to ski and the influences this activity has had on my life over the last 40+ years.
I have a vivid memory of my father standing me up on a pair of plastic skis at the top of our backyard hill. I’m almost certain I couldn’t see my skis below my bulging layers. He instructed me to stand up straight, as he let go and I began my decent. I don’t know how many trials it took until I made it to the bottom of the hill standing. Maybe I never did. It didn’t seem to matter. I was having fun. So much fun, that over time we had a line of neighborhood kids and friends waiting to get their snow boots affixed to the plastic skis and take their turn down the hill. And so my addiction to skiing began.
This is a common theme to many of our family ‘outings’. A fascination with a new activity (biking, swimming, water skiing, hiking, softball, skating), a bit of trial and error, some comic relief, a few bruises and scrapes, and occasional whining and scraps with the siblings (okay, maybe more than a few now and then). Some of these activities have continued to be life long pursuits that have enabled me to travel to amazing places and meet many wonderful people. Other interests have phased out with the times, which ultimately doesn’t matter. What I realize is that each provided opportunity for me to establish a personal connection with the outdoors. I learned how play and have fun with others, communicate my needs, assess risk, take personal responsibility, build community and develop creative thinking skills (like when we teamed up to trap the biggest turtle we could find- a snapping turtle no less).
This itch to play was contagious. Our station wagon was filled with friends every weekend as my parents carted us away for our next adventure. My grandfather would listen to our stories and then spend days in his shop trying to make whatever gadget it was we were into at the time. A skateboard, sled, ski, balance beam, tree swing… you name it and Bud would try to re-create it. At my 20th high school reunion awhile back, I was amazed at the stories friends vividly recalled. Most were of outings they took with my family (thankfully not about teenage relationships and drama!). There was an ounce of remorse in their voice however, lamenting that they don’t do those same fun excursions enough with their own children. Why not? They are not alone. How can we change this?
First it all starts with a little reflection. Tap into how you may have felt while exploring the wilds of your neighborhood or park while growing up. What did you discover? What subtle influences did this have on your connections with nature today? How do you feel when you think of those special times? Will our children be able to share similar memories and personal connections? It’s not too late to start building these, but first we need to make the time to do so a priority.
It could all start with a simple grassroots after school/daycare program or outing like our friend Heidi was writing about. One that focuses on establishing a fun relationship with an outdoor activity or experience, shared with friends, family and community. Maybe we need to dust off our fun outdoor play memories and loosen up. Make time. Create opportunity. Play outside. Explore (and create) nature-filled spaces. Have fun. Given the opportunity, children know how to lead the way. Who knows where it will grow from there.
Thanks Heidi for giving us some ideas for winter family fun! http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/cdf4ba7d?page=9#/cdf4ba7d/9