Bring your inner child and get outside

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children playing in a stream

As an educator, I am torn with many emotions and feeling a sense of uncertainty, like so many of us during this pandemic. The good news is I am an optimist.

I see that the glass is half full. Every cloud has a silver lining, and I can say that in these changing times, we can draw on the positive effects of the 2020 stay at home order and throughout this pandemic.

The flip flop

I call it the old school meets modern technology flip flop. Let me explain. If you happen to be one from the “old school,” you probably never used a video for a meeting. By now, you probably at least know what a Zoom, Microsoft, Skype or Google meeting is, and you might have tried it and become more tech-savvy. You were forced to learn a new type of technology. Odds are, you had plenty of time to do it, and you were not alone in learning it.

On the flip side, many people got tired of the online meetings and the technology because they were (and possibly still are) working from home, or not traveling or meeting in person. The longing to do something offline became real. So, back to “old school.”

Here is the flip of the stay at home order and pandemic and what I see as a silver lining: more time for family. Board games, not video games. Puzzles, not television. Talking and human interaction.

We realized how important connections were in our lives. Cooking real food and meals became popular again because we couldn’t eat out. Learning a new recipe, maybe even gardening, became popular again. Drive-in movies are back in and are safe. And how about a workout? Gyms are mostly shut down, but we still exercise — just outside.

My favorite thing — and the real silver lining to me — is when we reconnect with the nature and the outdoors. Whether it’s a simple walk, jog or playing outside, the fact that we are outside is a start of something — something wonderful that is about to happen.

A new movement

“No one ever injured their eyesight by looking on the bright side of things.” I like that quote because I believe we can use the coronavirus lifestyle changes as a good thing.

I have wanted children to get outside more, to experience nature. I don’t mean just walking and playing sports. I want the connection and appreciation of bugs, plants, trees, small animals, big animals and birds — any and all of it.

But it has to start with getting kids, and adults outside. So, yes, the backyard. Catch some lightning bugs, plant some new flowers — just make them native so butterflies are attracted to them as well as other pollinators. Better yet, visit a park.

By the way, did you know that out west they call them fireflies? And those amazing glowing bugs aren’t even flies — they are beetles that magically flash color as they try to attract mates. Some lightning bugs glow blue or green while others glow orange or yellow. So yes, it’s easy to awe children right in our own backyard.

And what kind of bird is that chirping? Whose nest is that? Where did this egg come from? What flower is that? Curiosity is a wonderful thing, and we can intertwine that with our modern technology. Use a phone or tablet to look up answers. Write down questions or take pictures of things you don’t know or need to identify. Record sounds or videos. Take pictures and perhaps use them for artistic means.

With the challenges that families and teachers are facing, the blessing is we have our parks open. We have bike paths; we have the outdoors. Many of us don’t realize how lucky we are to have backyards, and so now we get to stay home and enjoy them.

Kids in all of us

We have learned to improvise and adapt, and I am thrilled that more children will get to experience what I did when I grew up as a child. I was that kid who was always outside, catching lightning bugs or playing in the stream.

I would collect bird nests and cool colored rocks, and I loved listening to different songs and calls of birds and even owls. I recall watching Monarch butterflies on milkweed in ditches and fields and the evening bats feed on insects in the summertime. Now those species are fighting for a come-back.

My wish is that the next generation gets to have that fun and delight and sense of wonder about nature, wildlife, trees, streams and wildflowers. In a way, the pandemic has pushed people outside, and that is a good thing. People felt cooped up and wanted fresh healthy air. They wanted plenty of space to social distance and exercise, and the best place to do that is a park or trail.

If along the way they would take time to stop and smell the flowers, look at wonders of nature, listen to insects, birds and beauty around them, it would be great therapy. Bring out the inner kid and curiosity.

Do a flip flop — if you’re feeling too adult, bring out the youth. Remember the art of observation. Forget counting your steps and count your blessings instead. That is the silver lining we can take from 2020.

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Kelly Riley has been the Education Specialist for the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District since 2003. She earned her B.A. Degree in Education from the University of Akron and was previously a teacher with the Tri-County ESC. Kelly can be reached at (330)-262-2836 or by e-mail at kriley@wayneoh.org.

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