It's all about the kids

I've noticed it before. It's not always dramatic, but it's undeniably there. The outdoor environment has an affect on all of us and it's usually positive.

"I've seen it again and again," explained Ed Kanze, a guide and naturalist from Bloomingdale. "When my kids play at a playground, it's a flat experience. But in the woods, they are cooperative and always discovering things. They get along so much better!"

At a playground, kids may argue over who gets the swing, yet in the woods they'll bounce together on the end of a long log. The difference between the two environments is startling.

The major difference is that the majority of playgrounds are a place that breed competition, whether it's a game of kickball or tag; or an argument over who gets on the swing and who has to push.

In the outdoors, children quickly recognize the need to stick together, to cooperate at play. Maybe such behavior comes from a long forgotten instinct which remains deeply embedded in our psyche and is necessary for our survival.

However, I believe this behavior is more likely due to the fact that outdoor adventure inspires cooperation, the sharing of discoveries and encourages the care of fellow travelers. Whether such actions are the result of our biological make-up or a learned behavior, they are obvious to anyone who works or plays in the woods. And they should be fostered!

This notion is at the heart of an active and ever growing number of regional, national and international efforts to reconnect children and the outdoors. These efforts received a tremendous boost with the publication of author Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods.

As Louv explains, "When people talk about the disconnect between children and nature-if they are old enough to remember a time when outdoor play was the norm-they almost always tell stories about their own childhoods: this tree house or fort, that special woods or ditch or creek or meadow-those "places of initiation," in the words of naturalist Bob Pyle, where they may have first sensed with awe and wonder the largeness of the world seen and unseen."

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