As a kid, I can remember spending the majority of my free time outdoors. Like many kids, I participated in my fair share of sports, and put a countless number of miles on my mountain bike.
Yet my fondest memories as a child came from other outdoor activities. When I wasn’t in school or participating in sports, my free time would usually consist of waking up in the morning and heading to the nearest stream, pond, or wetland, usually with net and bucket in hand.
I had a fascination with the diversity of life found in these natural areas. Numerous species of insects, reptiles, amphibians, and fish were in abundant supply. I would spend hours catching and collecting a wide range of different species.
Some would ultimately make their way back to my house, where they were placed in one of the many aquariums set up in my room. Here, I would identify and observe the behavior of these interesting animals. Over time, I began to develop a passion for these creatures and the wild areas they inhabit.
The time spent catching these critters gave me a better understanding of the ecosystems, food chains, and habitats in which they were found. Little did I know that collecting these little critters would ultimately determine my college degree and eventually, my career path.
I grew up during a time when video games were just starting to become main stream. The Internet was beginning to catch on, but was still in its infancy. It was nothing close to what kids have available these days.
However, even back then, some kids were beginning to spend their days indoors. As time progresses and technology advances, it’s no surprise that even more youth are spending additional time indoors.
With all the enhanced computer gaming systems, along with numerous social networking websites, many kids have chosen to live an “indoor lifestyle.” This is where the problem lies.
You are seldom passionate about something you know nothing about. Why should our youth care about the environment around them? It would appear that most of their environmental knowledge is coming from the Discovery channel.
And most of those shows, while interesting, are filmed halfway across the world. It is difficult to get today’s youth passionate about the local environment because many of them have never been given the opportunity to experience it firsthand.
This is why Soil and Water Conservation Districts feel it is of the most importance to get our youth outdoors.
Working for the SWCD allows me to conduct many educational programs dealing with wildlife, forestry, and conservation related issues. Although I thoroughly enjoy presenting to today’s youth, I tend to leave these programs with mixed emotions.
A part of me sees a large population of youth who are no longer in touch with natural areas around them. Another part of me observes how excited the same youth become when I give them a taste of what’s beyond their front door.
One of my favorite and most successful programs that I conduct is stream sampling. What’s great about this activity is that it can be done with almost any age group or academic level.
Stream sampling consists of netting and collecting organisms that are found in local streams. Once the organisms are collected, one can make a fairly accurate determination about the water quality of the stream. To see the excitement on the kids’ faces when we pull up the net is simply amazing. Boys and girls alike cannot wait to jump in and start picking out the fish, crayfish, salamanders and macro-invertebrates that have accumulated in the net.
Then the questions start. “What’s this?” “What’s that?” “Can we keep them?”
These kids are absolutely overjoyed with all the cool stuff found in the streams that they previously never realized existed.
These days, it is difficult to find a noncomputer related activity to get kids excited. However this activity and activities like this seem to work very well.
Kids become fascinated by all the living things they encounter. This fascination soon leads to curiosity. Curiosity leads to learning. Learning leads to understanding. Understanding then ultimately leads to appreciation.
And parents, do not be intimidated because you, yourself, are unfamiliar with the outdoors. It doesn’t take a scientist or a specialist to conduct these outings.
It can be a learning experience you and your children can share together. So grab a net, a bucket, and some field guides and hit your local pond, stream, or wetland. Not only will it help your children obtain a better understanding of the environment around them, but it also creates memories that you and your children can share into the future.
Who knows, you may even get them thinking about their own future career path.