It was one of those days that I still remember 40 years later.
The day was overcast, perfect for fishing in Southern Ohio. My dad, brother, and I grabbed our fishing poles and headed for Twin Creek. My dad and my brother were on a concrete platform near the Twin Creek Dam discussing the best method for catching smallmouth bass. I wandered off uphill a few feet and started fishing while they debated. I was known for my fishing skills because on previous occasions I caught a snapping turtle, a largemouth bass (I was fishing with a cane pole), and my dad's chin (same cane pole). Pondering my talent, I dropped my baitless-hook into Twin Creek and began hauling in one crawdad after another. I’d take one off the hook, set it on its way back to the water, and then I’d catch another. It was a tiny crustacean parade.
Fishing for me was an exploration of life in the creeks and lakes in Ohio and Indiana. It was part of what we did every weekend and every summer. We were always outdoors.
Fast forward 40 years. I’m now in Southern California and working for a nature-based environmental education organization, Inside the Outdoors. Our headquarters are in Orange County, one of the most densely-populated counties in the U.S. We are also right in the middle of a global hotspot for biodiversity. While families in Orange County cities live a few minutes from the ocean, a couple of miles from a freshwater lake, and less than an hour from the Cleveland National Forest, many don’t know how to spend unstructured time exploring the outdoors.
Anxious to remedy this issue so that the families in my community could explore and discover nature the way I did as a child, I joined the Children and Nature Network Grassroots Leadership team and helped pilot the Nature Clubs for Families Toolkit. REI hosted our workshop and we were ready to share the toolkit with the parents and local environmental organizations that we were sure would show up.
We were surprised.
The “families” that showed up were the local Boys and Girls club staff, an alternative education teacher, and someone from the probation department who organized nature-based activities for teens on probation. Each explained that in many communities in Orange County, the family unit wasn’t able to support unstructured time spent exploring nature so others stepped in to serve as a surrogate family. Some started their own version of a Nature Club for Families. Others used the toolkit for ideas. The alternative education teacher used it as a way to connect to other like-minded people who could help his students get outdoors. The single goal: connecting young people to nature.
A few weeks after the workshop, Inside the Outdoors hosted a family nature day. A group of teens dressed in blue shirts showed up. They looked like life had been pretty challenging for them. They were part of leadership group through the probation department. These young people hiked the trails, laughed when they heard bullfrogs croaking in the pond, and fell in love with the outdoors.
Their joy reminded me of how I felt when I was a child, watching my little parade of crawdads beside a creek in Ohio.
Note: Share the Nature Club for Families Toolkit with local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, the probation department, and alternative education programs. It is an amazing tool for all types of families! Click here for the Nature Clubs for Families Toolkit
Check out Get Inside the Outdoors Month!!!