By Kate Jerome
Everyone knows that children reap enormous benefits from playing outside in nature. From improving physical health to developing emotional well-being—the list of paybacks goes on and on. Conscientious parents search diligently for the best outdoor programs. But there’s a case to be made that one of the best resources may already be in place. Why are grandparents the perfect partners for kids’ outside adventures? At least three good reasons immediately come to mind.
1. Grandparents know what it means to REALLY play outside!
Many of us were lucky enough to grow up in a place and time where mothers had the luxury of simply opening screen doors to shoo us out to play. My mother did so every summer afternoon. In response, my brothers usually headed to the empty lot to play baseball. I often trekked to the creek to hunt for crayfish under the small rocks in the shallows.
Mom didn’t worry about our safety. We didn’t worry about anything other than getting home in time for dinner. Who knew we were the original free-range kids?
Unfortunately, that kind of safe, unsupervised play is now largely a thing of the past. But the beauty of such unstructured time outdoors is never forgotten. And we grandparents understand that kids need time to really tune into nature if they are going to enjoy its benefits.
So when we go for a walk with our grandchildren we’re not just counting steps. We’ll encourage them to feel the sun on their faces and the wind in their hair. We’ll have the patience to watch clouds with them until fanciful shapes appear. And we’ll likely be the first to teach them how to sniff a new season creeping in or identify the chirp of a noisy lone cricket. In other words, we still remember how to use all our senses to connect with nature in a meaningful way and we don’t mind taking the time to help our grandkids do the same.
2. Grandparents have stories!
Mother Nature is an old friend of ours. We’ve seen her epic snowstorms and tornadoes…hurricanes and floods. We’ve hiked mountain trails, collected shells on sandy beaches, and photographed lush desert blooms with her.
And we’ve got tales to tell!
Lucky for our grandkids, it’s these personal narratives that put the power and beauty of nature into memorable context. Respect and resilience are always in the subplots whether the words are used or not. Superstition mixes with science as we pass on the practical (“Knee high by the Fourth of July!”) and make a case for the whimsical (“Fairy rings, of course!”). And even if some of it is silly, ALL of it is the stuff of great conversations that can literally influence a child’s future path. Many scientists and earth explorers say their love of nature was first influenced by a family member at a very young age.
3. Grandparents don’t mind a little dirt and “danger”!
Chances are, we’re not going to come back clean. Or dry. And we might even drag home a collection of stuff that could begin to smell in a few days. But we grandparents are experienced enough to know that great adventures require some sacrifice.
After all, we are explorers! And we enjoy a new discovery just as much…or even more…than our young companions. Outdoor adventures challenge kids to use their knowledge and skill to handle whatever they encounter. And since we love our grandchildren so deeply we know how to both push and protect. A budding citizen scientist might have to climb a fence to get a closer look but you can bet your life that there are eagle eyes and firm hands at their back to prevent a careless fall.
As author Richard Louv says in his best-selling book Last Child in the Woods “Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment—but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature is fading….We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole.”
Grandparents understand this. And they are expert at making their grandchildren’s world whole.