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4-H and the Lost Art of Appreciating Nature

Wednesday, October 16, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Tracy Winters, Ohio State University Extension
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As a child, I loved playing outside. My whole family enjoyed hunting, fishing, hiking and camping. My love of nature came from growing up IN nature!

In my backyard, I played in a creek and on big trees perfect for climbing. Just two miles from my house was Lake Alma State Park. During the long days of summer, my friends and I rode bikes to the park to spend the day swimming in the lake, fishing off the bridge or hiking miles of forested trails. My parents and grandparents raised a garden and went berry picking and mushroom hunting every spring. We were always outside.

As a 4-H educator, I am saddened that many of the children we work with have a different attitude about the outdoors. Many have never experienced the simple joy of going outside to play. They have grown up in a world where the outdoors is perceived as unsafe. The time they spend outdoors is filled with sports or other organized activities. Free time to just be a kid and experience nature has disappeared. This lack of natural appreciation for our environment became evident to me as a 4-H camp director. My campers had never experienced just playing in a creek, hiking along a trail, catching lighting bugs or just listening to the sounds of the forest at night.  

As adults, we sometimes grumble that kids will not unplug, that they would rather stay inside and watch TV or play video games, but have we ever really exposed them to the value of nature? As parents, we may struggle with our own fear of allowing our kids the freedom to play outside alone. We fear the danger of strangers, exposure to needles or polluted environments. Maybe we too find it hard to unplug or make time in our own schedules for free time to explore the outdoors.

By choosing to take 4-H natural resources projects, a child and adult helper can purposefully make time to rediscover nature together. Age and skill level are less important than the child’s interest, and it certainly helps to offer lots of options. In Ohio, projects cover ecology, geology, trees, birds, fishing, gardening, insects, ponds, trapping muskrats, and beekeeping. Even shooting sports projects get youth outdoors.  

Each project is designed to awaken the curious mind of a child with self-guided exploration, allowing them to naturally build their scientific experimental skills and discover a wide range of STEM focused careers. As a member learns about ecosystems, changing environmental factors and the role they play as stewards of the land, their adult helper will experience once again the wonder and fascination of nature, this time through the eyes of a child!        

For more information and to view sample pages, just follow these links:

Gardening and Plant Science  
The Natural World  
Shooting Sports

National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals
701 Exposition Place, Suite 206 | Raleigh, NC 27615 | T: (919) 232-0112 | E: nae4ha@nae4ha.com