A Red Hills wonderland: connecting kids to their natural world
July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills
published in Tallahassee Democrat 7/10/14
There was a noticeable burst of energy when I announced to the soon-to-be hot and sticky summer day campers that, “Miss Kathleen said you should climb on this tree after lunch.”
A few minutes prior, they had voraciously consumed the contents of their lunch boxes. This group of eager Red Hills explorers traveled earlier that morning from the Tallahassee Museum to Birdsong Nature Center in Thomasville, Georgia.
Cheerfully disembarking from the yellow school bus with their canteens, hats and sunblock, the elementary-aged youth seemed ready for anything that cool summer morning. Kathleen Brady, Birdsong’s director, quickly put the campers to work by arming them with small paper sacks to collect natural treasures discovered along the forest trails.
The children enthusiastically plucked up bits of leaves, stones, insects, pebbles, flowers and the occasional feather. The sniffed at millipedes that emit an almond cherry odor and crunched up fragrant sweet gum leaves.
The campers spent the morning wandering about the woods while learning about good fire, purple martins, pileated woodpeckers, invasive plants and indigenous animals. The list goes on. They paused to observe ant piles and decayed bones. They followed mammal tracks (deer, armadillo and coyote) and observed baby bluebirds sleeping the safety of their wood box nest.
All the while, Kathleen and the skilled Tallahassee Museum camp staff welcomed the kids’ earnest questions and youthful observations about their world around them. The adult leaders encouraged full exploration of this Red Hills wonderland.
After lunch, the group stood grinning at the towering magnolia tree with wide, smooth branches bent low as if to kiss the earth. The tree appeared equal in width and height. The ground around the tree was noticeably soft with decaying leaves of decades gone by. I observed the children’s reaction to my tree climbing invitation and simultaneously contemplated the age of this magnificent tree towering in front of Betty and Ed Komarek’s former home. The estate now serves as conservation education playground for all.
Circling the trunk in the tree’s expansive shade, the young explorers readily identified several low branches to begin their ascent. Within moments they began to confidently climb, hurling their lanky youth limbs on that of the aged tree.
The staff supervised the campers freely climbing, offering intermittent support and encouragement while setting realistic safety guidelines for their young charges. I sat on the porch admiring small children scrabbling up a huge tree. I considered how many children might have swung from this particular tree’s limbs over the years of its existence. What a story this tree could tell!
My mind eventually wandered to the book “Last Child in the Woods.” The author, Richard Louv, coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” while imploring us to take our kids outside to reconnect with the natural world.
Louv points to the research demonstrating the many positive outcomes of getting kids to play about in their natural world. Encourage them to learn and explore and grow. Turns out, it makes them more confident, capable adults.
It was quite evident that this curious group of Tallahassee Museum summer campers would not be suffering any sort of nature-deficit disorder on this day—or any other day, I suspected. Nature was undeniably their playground. The natural world around them at Birdsong provided a rich and exciting setting for their full day’s adventure and unquestionably they felt confident to set forth and explore.
Georgia Ackerman is project director of the Greater Red Hills Awareness Initiative at Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.