Monday, July 1, 2013

[Guest Blogger Series] Raising An Environmentally Aware Child By Tina Hamilton

It's that time again! This month our Guest Blogger is Tina Hamilton, who embodies all of the qualities and traits that we are working diligently to instill our daughter. With thoughtful discovery and careful exploration, her father and a special circle of other childhood mentors gave her a foundation of love, respect and honor for all of the beauty Mother Nature has to offer. Enjoy!

I have been hiking my entire life. Before I came along, my dad was a lifelong Boy Scout who spent more time outdoors than in. I started hiking with him before I could walk – we have family pictures of him carrying me on his back in an external-frame baby carrier from Patagonia

dad hiking with toddler
Old School Daddy Hiker!
As soon as I was old enough, I signed up with the Girl Scouts as a Brownie. With adventures planned by my scout troop and the (much wilder) adventures planned by my dad, I spent entire summers as a child hiking and camping in the woods, and spent the winters with my feet firmly attached to cross-country skis.

Between my dad, the Girl Scouts, and simply being a product of the 1980's, I became a stalwart young environmentalist. I followed to the letter every instruction found in "50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth," I had comic books about pollution in the Amazon rainforest, I read every book by Jean Craighead George I could get my hands on, and I spent long hours debating with my dad whether it was more environmentally sound to use paper plates or to waste water on doing the dishes (I argued that the water could be cleaned while landfills remained forever; Dad argued it was late and "Get Smart" was about to come on).

My experiences in the great outdoors and my involvement in the green movement (before it was known by that name) shaped my life in considerable ways. It gave my dad and I common ground on which to come together during my difficult teen years and my travel abroad for college. It also gave me, I think, an inner core of strength on which I could rely in hard times. "I want to come home," I would cry to Dad in a trans-Atlantic phone call. "Go for a walk in the woods," he would say. "You’re always at home in the woods."

butterfly on a yellow flower
Discovering the beauty of Mother Nature
The benefits of spending time outside can't be under-emphasized – exercise, family bonding, exploration of nature, and learning responsibility and self-reliance. Going hiking or camping can even make your brain function better, according to neuroscience research reported in Backpacker Magazine.

So what can you do to get your own kids to fall in love with nature? Take some hints from my dad:
  • Start them early. There are a lot of child-carriers that are far more comfortable for parent and baby than the blue monstrosity still hanging on a hook in my dad’s basement.
  • Go at their pace. Start with places close to home – a city park can be just as fascinating as a mountainside to a small child. If you've got a yearning for a longer hike, leave the kids at home.
  • See it from their point of view. I still remember the day my dad and I counted 87 extremely tiny frogs that were congregating on the hiking trail. I don’t know where we were or if we ever made it to our destination. But I clearly remember my dad's excitement matching my own as we kept count.
  • Bring a friend. For a kid, sharing an outdoor experience with a friend is much different than sharing it with an adult. Plus, kids can keep each other far more entertained than adults can – just ask my dad about the gigglefests my cousin Becky and I used to have.

climbing through ruins
Climbing Ruins
My final advice? Make it meaningful. Both my dad and the Girl Scouts spent a lot of time emphasizing the "Leave no trace" philosophy. "Take only pictures, leave only footprints," my Scout leader would say. "Leave it be so you can come back and enjoy it again next time," Dad would say. Knowing that taking care of the earth was my job gave me a sense of responsibility that has definitely grown over time – and it all started when I was a toddler adventuring through the woods on my dad's back.

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About the Author
Tina Hamilton is a writer, blogger, and social media enthusiast from Southern California. You can follow her on Google+ and Twitter.

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