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Teaching an appreciation for nature to future generations

Molly’s introduction to nature did not go as planned.

Having grown up in Orillia I was eager to move back after the birth of our first child. Toronto does not easily fit our lifestyle or the image of how we want to raise Molly.

Both my husband and I spend as much time outdoors as possible. From canoe trips to cross-country skiing, we feel that connecting with nature is paramount to a healthy, balanced and eco-centric life.

Living in Orillia allows us the freedom of having endless outdoor opportunities right on our doorstep.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation our children are spending on average seven hours a day in front of a screen with only 30 minutes of time playing outside. “Countless studies tell us that time outside makes children healthier, happier, more focused, more creative, more generous, and of course, better environmental stewards.”

Last year we spent the winter indoors nesting with our newborn baby. With the arrival of spring comes the urge to get back outdoors. It is time to introduce our daughter to Mother Nature.

Smiling in anticipation, I lower Molly’s toes into the fresh spring grass. The moment of excitement quickly passes as she screams and recoils in terror.

The experience is far more scaring for me then her. Images of her easily embracing all things outdoors seem to disappear.

Will we be forced to leave Molly with her grandparents as we take off on canoe trips? What about the numerous day hikes we do? It all seems too unbearable to admit; could we have a “city girl” for a daughter?

Once the irrational part of my brain finishes its race through the list of worst-case scenarios, the rational part kicks back in.

It seems in our eagerness we rushed the experience, forgetting that the outdoors is not yet Molly’s regular playpen. By taking a step back and slowing the process down we reached our goal. By the end of the week Molly is playing in the grass without a second thought.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) conducted a three-year project in the UK and found that only 21% of children between the ages of 8-12 are “connected to nature”.

They feel a large factor in these findings is a lack of interaction with the natural world, motivated by feelings that it is dirty or unsafe. These tend to be taught expectations of nature.

It is what we as parents make commonplace that our children will adopt as their normal. Is it being inside on our computers; experiencing nature only during the walk from house to car? Or is it exploring hiking trails, gardening and stargazing?

Having local, free and easily accessible space to take children and allow them to unabashedly explore the natural world is paramount to fostering a deep relationship with nature.

A week after moving back to Orillia we find ourselves enjoying the trails at the Grant’s Woods Conservation Centre. A place we return to frequently. This protected land allows Molly countless opportunities to explore the forest, hug trees and revel at the changing seasons.

We want Molly to grow up understanding and being inspired by the natural world. Taking her outdoors on a daily basis is so achievable now and we take every opportunity to share the great, not the dirty or unsafe, outdoors with her.

Meegan Scanlon is a resident of Orillia and also volunteer with The Couchiching Conservancy. She also baked two pies for the Corn Roast in the Woods in September and they were delicious!