The value of getting kids outside

February 8th, 2012 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

I had the pleasure of attending the NW Flower & Garden Show Preview Gala last night, hosted by the Arboretum Foundation in partnership with Seattle Audubon. It was a good time and I was given the honor or saying a few words to drum up donor support for the UWBG Education & Outreach Program here at the Arb. One of the questions that Dick, the emcee, fired my way had to do with the value of getting kids outside into places like the WPA. I fumbled a bit, but said something about how being in nature can at once calm the mind while stimulating it, and how volumes have been written about the benefits associated with being outdoors.
I thought about this question some more on my bike ride to work this morning (when I normally do my best thinking). It dawned on me that the ultimate goal of environmental education has got to be establishing a sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself – to feel a kinship with the world around us. We humans are not above or separate from life on earth; we’re merely part of it, “cogs in a wheel” as Aldo Leopold would say.
The value of getting kids outside and allowing them to explore the world around them is crucial in establishing this kinship. When it doesn’t happen, a disconnect results and we end up with a citizenry that thinks food comes from grocery stores, and energy from light switches. We end up with economies based on perpetual growth that don’t calculate true costs and carrying capacities. And we end up with governments that only look out for their own best interests; forests, reefs, and ice-caps be damned! Contrary to popular practice, natural resources like clean air/water/soil, petroleum/wood/fish, are not limitless. Those who see the birds and trees as equals know this and act accordingly, but unfortunately, we are a minority.
But we’re still here and we’re recruiting! If you’re picking up what I’m putting down, join us in any way that works for you. Send your kids to our upcoming Spring Break Camp; take a Weekend Walk with us any Sunday of the month; volunteer with us to lead School Fieldtrips or remove invasive weeds; become an Arboretum Foundation member; or simply step outside and take a hike! John Muir perhaps said it best, “in every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” And after receiving, think about how you can give back to ensure that generations to come have something to receive as well.

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