Sharing nature with kids

Youth-oriented event set for Friday at Lakenenland

Angela Johnson is coordinating Friday’s event. Families will receive a free book, “Sharing Nature: Nature Awareness Activities.” (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

HARVEY — Cell phones and computers have their place in the world, but so does the natural world itself.

Author Richard Louv has written an international bestseller, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” which spotlights the alienation of children from the natural world.

Coining the term “nature-deficit disorder,” Louv outlines the benefits of a strong connection between children and nature, which include better mental acuity, reduced obesity and depression, and simply having fun outside.

In the same vein, a free event, “Sharing Nature With Kids,” is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at Lakenenland Sculpture Park, the famous attraction located along M-28 in Harvey.

Angela Johnson, locally based director of the Great Start Collaborative, is coordinating the new event.

A free program, “Sharing Nature With Kids,” is scheduled for Friday at Lakenenland. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

The reason for “Sharing Nature With Kids” stems from research that shows children playing frequently outside is beneficial in a variety of ways — cognitively, socially and emotionally — and allows for better interpersonal skills, she said.

“In our culture today, children are spending less and less time outside,” Johnson said.

She considers this a “real problem,” noting that today’s kids have more screen time and take part in more structured, indoor play.

An excerpt from Louv’s book reads: “Not that long ago, summer camp was a place where you camped, hiked in the woods, learned about plants and animals, or told firelight stories about ghosts or mountain lions. As likely as not today, ‘summer camp’ is a weight-loss camp, or a computer camp. For a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear — to ignore.”

So, helping kids make those connections with one of the objectives of the “Sharing Nature” gathering.

Nick Francis of Salt Lake City visits Lakenenland Sculpture Park with his son, Sawyer. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

Making the event possible, she said, is the state-funded Great Lakes Collaborative, which serves youngsters from pregnancy through 8 years old and offers programming for youth that promotes health.

“This would fall right in line with what we want to do,” said Johnson, who noted that every county in the state of Michigan has a GLC director.

She said Gov. Rick Snyder, who started the Collaborative, looked at research that showed starting early with youths benefits society later.

“Sharing Nature With Kids” also fits in with the “No Child Left Inside” movement in which environmental science education and literacy are stressed in schools.

Of course, there will be the traditional outdoor food, S’mores, available Friday.

A raccoon sculpture can be seen along the Bog Walk at Lakenenland. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

Graham crackers and chocolate, though, will be only part of the “Sharing Nature” experience.

As supplies last, free books will be handed out to families who attend Friday’s event. That book, “Sharing Nature: Nature Awareness Activities,” written by Joseph Cornell, details nature-games for children and adults.

“This is an amazing book,” Johnson said. “There’s tons of just games and things that you can play with your kids in nature.”

Johnson will lead four games from the book.

One is “Wild Animal Scramble,” which is a guessing game. One person has a picture of an animal attached to his or her back, and has to guess, through asking questions, the identify of that animal.

For example, “Does mine fly?” would be an appropriate question, she said.

Johnson will set up a “Camouflage Trail” at the Lakenenland Bog Walk where she will hide manmade objects along the trail. During the walk, participants will have to be on the lookout for items that are out of place.

“It just gets everyone in the moment and very aware of their surroundings, and you’re really looking and you’re not thinking about other things,” Johnson said. “You’re just really in nature, noticing.”

The Bog Walk itself is a visual treat, with a plethora of ferns and other plants lining the walkway, along with rustic signage.

In “Meet A Tree,” Johnson said one partner is blindfolded and led to a tree to explore it. That person then has to find that tree after the blindfold is removed.

The final activity of the evening will be more reflective in nature, with Johnson reading or telling a story around the campfire.

Whether it’s playing a game or listening to a story, Johnson — who acknowledged having a lot of free play in nature as a child — realizes there is something “creative and expansive” that today’s kids are missing.

“There’s no substitute for the real world and the free play that goes with that,” Johnson said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.