It has long been our belief that if children are given an opportunity to experience the beauty and fun of being outdoors on a Tree Farm, the forest will come to life in a way that leads them to unplug from iPods, Playstations, cell phones, and television in order to connect more with the amazing world of nature.
For the last 21 years, rain or shine, this is exactly what has happened on the first Thursday of June when 4th graders from St. Michael’s School in Olympia, Washington, descend on our Tree Farm in nearby Frances for a PLT tour.
Embracing the Day
This year as we waited for the children to arrive, the rain came down harder and harder. The eight foresters who helped lead the tour began arriving about an hour before the kids and I was reminded once again of the great people we have in this industry! They showed up with smiles on their faces, rain gear to wear, and excitement to share their love of the woods with the next generation. One forester offered to set up a huge canopy to keep the kids dry. Another brought various sizes of rain coats and boots from his own kids to share with anyone who wasn’t prepared for the deluge. I had baked goodies and made coffee for them. As the foresters visited, I realized how important it is that we share their knowledge and love of the outdoors with folks who don’t have the opportunity to live connected to nature.
As we welcomed the kids and their parents, it became increasingly clear that this was, without a doubt, the most rain we ever had for a tour! This became the perfect time to pass on a little “life lesson” by sharing these words written by an unknown author: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” This is especially true for those of us living in the Pacific Northwest! So, we all embraced the day just as it was and moved forward with the planned activities.
We displayed pictures from past PLT events and pictures of the five generations of my family who have nurtured this land over the last 124 years. Our son Tim demonstrated how to “make square boards from a round log” by showing how our Mobile Dimension Sawmill operates. This is always fascinating for people who have never seen it before, and they love the wonderful fragrance of freshly milled Cedar as they examine the boards.
Next, we loaded the kids on a haywagon, and my husband, Bob, drove them out to the woods where the foresters had set up stations to teach about their particular area of expertise. This was something new we tried this year—in the past we had divided the class into small groups and had a forester lead each group through a walk in the woods, teaching along the way. Bob suggested rotating through stations so kids could learn about a variety of topics including tree identification, plot sampling, log scaling, fish habitat restoration on the creek, road building, insect pests, using compasses, and taking core samples from a tree. We all agreed that this new way of having different stations worked really well.
Connecting Kids to Nature
In spite of the rain, I was impressed with the resiliency of everyone as I listened to the chatter while we passed from station to station! But what struck me the most was a question from one young boy who came up to me and asked very seriously, “So, what do you people do for entertainment out here?” I replied that when I was growing up, we walked in the woods, raised vegetables in the garden, played at the creek, and worked in the hayfields. The boy reiterated, “But what do you do for fun? Do you have television?” I told him that we did have it but didn’t spend much time watching it as there was a whole world outside to explore. He persisted with this line of questioning saying, “Do you play games?” I told him that we did play baseball, croquet, marbles, and some board games. He responded, “I meant video games–what type of game console do you have?” For a moment I was speechless–he was absolutely serious! I shared with him that the entire outdoors was “my game console” and there were wonderful discoveries to be made each and every day.
As the boy moved on to eat his lunch, I was left pondering that conversation and I shared it with Rex, one of the foresters. He shook his head and said that is exactly why education programs like PLT are so very important. He said that when he was a kid, they’d play pick-up baseball and go fishing at the creek. Now, he feels sad that so many kids are glued to some type of screen and seldom get outside.
I had similar thoughts as I was saying thank-you and goodbye to another forester. Dale is a neighbor (anyone living within five miles of each other is a neighbor!) and he had been a close friend of my dad’s all his life. At 87 years old, he is still out in the woods, sharing his wisdom with young people. He was climbing over logs and completely “at home” in the forest. His example clearly illustrates what it means to live a life of stewardship in harmony with nature, and he gives testimony to the importance of passing this on to the next generation.
Making Learning in the Outdoors Fun
If we expect the next generation to follow in our footsteps, care for the land, and be stewards of its natural resources, we must give them opportunities to get outside, connect with nature, and develop a love for the natural world. Because young people today are plugged in to electronics, spending more and more time inside–not outdoors learning, or playing, or exploring–it’s more important than ever that we give them fun and engaging experiences in the woods. Whether you’re an educator, a forester, or a family forest owner, a parent or a grandparent, PLT is one of the best tools I know to get kids outside, having fun and learning at the same time.
In all our 21 years of experience leading PLT Tours on our Tree Farm, we’ve always found the children enjoy their visit – in spite of what the weather may bring! Even the young boy who plays video games for entertainment had fun, and at least we know we opened his eyes to a whole new world.