Share Nature with Your Children

By Amy Renfranz (

Article Published: Oct. 25, 2012 | Modified: Oct. 25, 2012
Share Nature with Your Children

Ranger Amy Renfranz leads a children’s educational program on the shores of Julian Price Lake
in Blowing Rock.

Photo submitted

These days I hear a lot of “back in my day” talk.

“Back in my day, people were nicer.”

“Back in my day, you could ask your neighbor for help.”

“Back in my day, people weren’t afraid to let their kids play outside.”

And so, I ask you, dear reader, in what way were your younger years better than today? Do you think your parents shared the same thoughts about their own generation? Are the morals of today really so low, or have we been manipulated by the media?

Certainly, we hear more bad news than good news. However, I would like to think that for every gruesome story talked about in the news, there are a thousand untold stories of neighbors helping neighbors, and many more of children unreservedly playing outside.

Because of what I hear in the news, I am afraid to let my children play outside or even on our street. But I would like to start. Are there any activities that you would recommend? Both of my children are young. — Selena, online reader from the Atlanta area

I commend you, Selena, for taking the steps toward getting your children outside. In your own way, you are being “the change you want to see in the world.” Thank you for writing in.

Currently, the statistics are pretty grim. Kids spend an average of seven hours per day with various electronic media. One in three children in the U.S. are overweight or obese. They also have 25 percent less playtime and 50 percent less unstructured outdoor activities than in past decades.

Here is the hopeful part: parents and family are the most influential to youth participation in outdoor activities. Children who do spend time outdoors are healthier and happier, even more self-confident. Studies have shown that just a 20-minute nature walk will drastically help students with attention deficit disorder to concentrate better.

Chances are that there are several parks near you, Selena. The first step would be to find a park you feel comfortable in. The next step might be harder: tearing your children away from their television programs.

I think that unstructured playtime for children is very important. Take them for a walk and let them take their time exploring. You don’t have to know the names of all the trees, but making a bark rubbing will stick in their memories. Simply place a piece of white paper against the bark of a tree and rub firmly with a pencil or crayon. Have your kids compare different rubbings.

Check your local papers for guided activities with rangers and the parks and recreation department. The rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway offer weekly programs for children and families. Programs range from salamander searches to group kite flying.

If you are still feeling uncomfortable about taking your children outside, then I might suggest taking your kids on a city safari. Provide your kids with a city map, binoculars, field guides and a digital camera and hit the road. Have them plan out the route based on where the green areas are.

You will be surprised at the amount of wildlife you will find in your “urban jungle.”

This safari might spark an interest that can be continued in an outdoor setting.

There are a lot of great references in this field. “Sharing Nature with Children” by Joseph Cornell and “The Bumper Book of Nature: A User’s Guide to the Great Outdoors” by Stephen Moss are two of my favorites.

Above all, never forget that, in the words of Rachel Carson, when introducing a child to the natural world “it is not half so important to know as to feel.” The experiences your children will have with you will be much more important to their development than any book or video game. You will find that in sharing nature with your children you will find creativity, joy and a belonging to the natural world.

If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email ( All of your questions will be answered. One will be featured next week. See you on the trails.

Amy Renfranz is an interpretive park guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina. Her comments are made independently and do not reflect the views of the National Park Service.

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