Kids need to be out in nature. They need to climb trees, crawl through the bushes, play in the dirt and mud, chase each other across the field, and explore the wild. Too often today children never experience the wonderful land around them. Too many of our island keiki rarely get the opportunity to discover the world-class setting that surrounds us. My exposure to the outdoors as a child exploring the ponds, streams and fields of home had a dramatic impact on my life. Those experiences fill me with a sense of identity and confidence that have guided me in adulthood. It is a great joy to take a youth out into a remote place, tear down their fears of the wild, and replace those fears with a respectful fascination of nature and her secrets. It’s really quite simple to do-just take them to a place and have fun. This summer get out with your kids and soak up some nature. Make it an afternoon, or a day, or a long weekend campout.
What should you do? Where should you go? I could fill a few pages just listing where to go and what to do. There is no lack of places to visit on our island: the great valleys of Kohala, Kona-Kohala beaches, streams and gulches of Hamakua, Kaumana Cave, forest trails off the Saddle road, state cabins at Mauna Kea, Keanakolu, or Ainapo, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are just some of the obvious and accessible. But let me tell you about a little adventure that occurred in my backyard. It was with four girls all under six years of age. It took about forty-five minutes. It had all the elements of a successful sharing of nature with children-anticipation, adventure, discovery, fun, and accomplishment.
It was a birthday party. Four girls were invited to celebrate my little girl Katy’s fourth birthday. My wife, being the good party planner that she is, thought of everything. The girly invitations, the balloons, bubbles, lunch with crustless sandwiches, cake, candles, ice cream, party favors and a nature walk. We live in Holualoa on 2 acres of rocky ground covered with overgrown weeds and grasses, some Christmasberry trees, and a handful of Ohia-lehua perched on a rockpile. It’s not a nature reserve but it has plenty of nature.
First off the girls were excited. They were told, “Rob will take you on a nature walk.” I took them all into the garage and we sat down together. I explained where we would go, what we would do, and how I wanted them to behave. Now they were filled with a greater sense of anticipation than before and expressed this by exuberantly jumping up and down. We started off by playing follow the leader. We went up the embankment to the far corner of our property and came down the fence line. We scrambled over the big boulders of the ohia rockpile and swerved through the trees. For the small girls climbing up and over the rocks was an adventure. We held hands as we went down the steep slope into the tall California grass. The gaps between these eight-foot high clumps of grass were literally tunnels. We bushwhacked through the thick weeds like it was a jungle. We were having fun! I stopped the girls in a small opening and we all sat down. “Be quiet and listen to the breeze in the grass,” I commanded. They were so cute. Some put their hands up to their ears for extra effect. They all sat there quiet with their knees pulled up tight for just a moment, eyes turned upwards waiting for the moment of discovery. It came in the form of a little Yellow-fronted Canary that perched three feet from us in some milkweed. The girls all pointed and with whispers made sure we all noticed the “bird with yellow on its face.”
Now the girls were really aware of the life around them. They were no longer worried about falling down or getting stickers in their socks. They found a butterfly cocoon, a beautiful cobweb, and the pretty purple flowers of that pesky pasture weed, oi. As we made our way up the driveway to the house, they were all independent and accomplished adventurers in their own minds. “Can we pick some flowers for our mommies?” “That would be wonderful” I said. “These are weeds in our yard so it’s o.k. to pick flowers here.” Each girl picked a bouquet of oi flowers, the red seeds of Christmasberry, and pretty leaves. They ran up the driveway to their mothers with gifts of nature. Excited, happy, and proud of what they just had done.
In less than an hour, travelling no more than 50 yards from our lanai, the girls went on an adventure to a place far away. Our little birthday walk wouldn’t have much effect on a teenager. But it is possible to bring out the same emotions and effects with a kid of any age. Make it a challenge, have fun, and let the nature do the talking. Whatever you do please be careful, well prepared, and sensitive to the place you visit. The more you do it, the easier it is. And when your kids are grown and gone, they’ll remember those moments in the woods, on the beach, in the cave, or on the lava as some of their fondest memories. But the best part of sharing nature with children is that it brings out the child in you.