Close your eyes, relax your shoulders, take a deep breath in… and out. Think back to a favorite memory from your childhood. Where are you? Who are you with? What sounds, smells and sensations do you recall? How do you feel in that moment? For me, I am sitting in an aluminum boat on Upper Bottle Lake in northern Minnesota. The lake is gently rocking me as I soak in the warm sunshine and inhale the distinctly lake-y smell. In the distance I see the shoreline, dense with conifer trees, and hear my favorite sound: the haunting call of a Common Loon. I feel utterly content as I fish with my little brother and grandpa.
Where did your trip down memory lane take you? Regardless of the content, I am willing to bet that your memory has at least one thing in common with mine: it took place outside. Even today, think about how your physical and mental state change when you step away from your computer for a brisk walk outdoors. In a world filled with uncertainty, jam-packed schedules and unrealistic expectations, we and our children deserve a place where we can find solace and peace. For many of us, that place is in nature. Unfortunately, many of today’s children don’t have access to safe, natural spaces. At Bird Conservancy, we want to change that by offering a variety of opportunities where families can connect with each other and the outdoors. One way we do this is through our Family and Homeschool Programs.
Each month, families come together at our Environmental Learning Center (ELC) at Barr Lake State Park to learn, play and spend quality time together. One month we may go birding by canoe; the next, we may learn all about raptors or create nature art. No matter the topic, curiosity and smiles abound! In 2021, we included our littlest explorers with the addition of our new Growing Naturally programming. At each monthly family program, while the big kids are off learning and having fun, budding birders age 1-4 play and connect with nature through programming that is designed with their development in mind. We also started Wild Wednesdays for these young naturalists. Every Wednesday morning, we welcome them for a morning of unstructured outdoor play at the ELC. You can find them searching for bugs, digging in the dirt and conquering an obstacle course made from logs; you know, the serious work of being a kid.
One of my favorite programs to date took place last July. At our Nests & Eggs program, families gathered to hear a folktale about how various bird species decided to build their nests. Children shared their own stories of nests they had found and their inquisitive minds began bouncing questions all around. We then set out in search of the real deal. We spotted the classic cup nest of an American Robin, the muddy architecture of a Barn Swallow and the hanging pendant of a Bullock’s Oriole. Wanting to try their hand at crafting these birdy builds themselves, families gathered natural materials, we made a bucket of mud and everyone got to work. The engineering was incredible! Everyone was glad they had hands to build with and weren’t limited to just beaks and feet!
Not only are these experiences fun, but they help achieve Bird Conservancy’s mission of conserving birds and their habitats. While that may seem like a tall order for a two-year-old, research shows that if we want that two-year-old to grow up to be conservation-minded, they need to have a strong connection with the natural world. According to Louise Chawla, Professor emerita at University of Colorado – Boulder, that connection starts in childhood. Her research has found that adults who care for the environment very often have two things in common; 1) they had frequent, positive interactions with nature as a child, and 2) they had a caring adult to help facilitate and model these interactions.1 Our Family and Homeschool Programs achieve both of these critical components.
So, what are you waiting for? Come explore with us! Whether your goal is quality family time, increased knowledge of the natural world or just to get out of the house, you can accomplish all by joining our Family & Homeschool Programs. What memories will you create?
Registration is required for all programs and scholarships are available! Please visit birdconservancy.org/events to find upcoming program opportunities. Questions? Contact Sarah Doxon, Education Manager, at [email protected]. All photos taken by Sarah Doxon unless otherwise noted.
1Louise Chawla. (2007). Childhood Experiences Associated with Care for the Natural World: A Theoretical Framework for Empirical Results. Children, Youth and Environments, 17(4), 144–170.