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Parenting can be a competitive enterprise sometimes. I say this because oftentimes it seems as if being a parent involves a near constant state of worry, so naturally we worry if our children are developing at, or above, the level of their peers and that they are learning. Perhaps it’s the influence of media that drives this worry and competition, and hopefully at some point we can all stand back and realize the uselessness of worry and understand the clarity that children develop at different paces. Nevertheless, we still strive to incorporate educational lessons into our daily routines with our children – whether at home or on vacation.
Luckily, for those parents who seek to involve some educational emersion into their trip to the Door, the peninsula is replete with opportunities to open the eyes and expand the horizons of our youngsters. As a father of a 2 ½ year old who, as a teacher, happens to have the summer partially free, I decided that it was high time to foster some learning into my time with my son (in between trips to the playground, beach, and getting ice cream, of course).
My motivation to do so largely stemmed from my reading of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, a book that coins the term nature deficit disorder. So, like any other worried parent I applied Louv’s thesis to practice and began to worry that if my son wasn’t immediately exposed to our natural surroundings on a regular basis that he would develop into an attention-deficit, video gaming, antisocial, angsty adolescent (I say this with tongue-in-cheek, though the conclusions in Louv’s book are remarkable and should be taken to heart, however).
We started small and began post breakfast walks along the trails of Peninsula State Park with the dog. In Last Child in the Woods, Louv discusses the need for unconstructed free play for children – allowing their imaginations to wonder and their natural curiosity to blossom. And so, I allow Arlo to wander (somewhat) freely along the trails, careful to avoid the poison ivy, and he asks questions about leaves on the ground, fallen trees, and mushrooms and moss. Eventually, we learn the names of a few species of tree – and that mushrooms should not be immediately placed in one’s mouth. We discuss the cycle of trees as they grow, fall down, turn to dirt, where new trees will eventually grow. It’s a deep satisfaction to watch my son explore, call out ‘pine tree’ and ‘moss’, and simply experience the wonder of the outdoors.
And yes, there have been more than a handful or mornings where this walk didn’t work out – tantrums originating with the most puzzling of causes have taken us off course, so by no means do I pretend to be raising a future forest ranger.
Nevertheless, I persevere and decide to take our learnings one step further and visit The Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor. The Ridges includes 1,600 acres of protected land containing an amazing diversity of plant and animal species, along with an array of friendly hiking trails. Inside their beautiful new building we are introduced to a variety of engaging exhibits, highlighted by cocoons and meeting a rather large salamander. We hike the Hidden Brook trail in a light drizzle and notice the beautiful flowers lining the trail, and spent a large amount of time observing the brook itself.
We come out on the boardwalk in between the Upper Rangelight and Lower Rangelight and decide to explore the old cabins and garden near the Upper. The Mountain Maple Trail is a hit as well, and we eventually make our way back to Ridges Road, where we cross and then enjoy sitting on the beach for a well-deserved snack. I’m impressed with the stamina of my son, as we’ve hiked a couple miles at this point, and further, I smile because such exercise will lead to a long nap in a few hours.
We will return soon, and perhaps take advantage of a guided hike where we will be exposed to further lessons and teachings.
In the end, I realize that experiences like this have a two-fold outcome. First off, my son is excited, he’s engaged, and sure he’s learning, but in a natural way. Leading to outcome two – I find myself not worrying about how he compares to other toddlers, rather I’m met with a bonding and joy that should take priority over everything else about parenting (and life for that matter). By fostering these types of experiences with our children we are not only opening their eyes, but our own as well.
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