With summer camps and many sports unavailable at the moment, I’m always intrigued as an educator, and as a person, as to how the youth are responding to these unprecedented times. I feel like many of us are being reminded of how critical these summer services really are.
Like many native wildlife species, Canadians thrive in the summer months. Sports, gatherings, parties, travelling, and free time for youth. Heck, our school season is designed around enjoying two months of peak summer weather in Canada!
However, most adults work. When the youth aren’t having their curious minds exercised, they can wreak subtle havoc on themselves and their parents alike. Exploring the great outdoors is arguably the most primal way to gain new experiences, burn off some steam, and do something healthy all at once.
I have been fortunate to get some pretty unfiltered feedback from kids about missing school, summer camps, and getting back out into nature. These conversations have taken place over the past few days, during a couple of recent hiking tours I ran with parents and their kids.
On one of my tours, four boys arrive armed and ready with bug nets, backpacks, and more enthusiasm than the average adult. One little guy even has a ‘bug gun,’ which is a battery-powered, vacuum-shaped plastic gun that sucks up insects into a little jar with a lid.
We were going to explore the banks of a large creek in Lincoln. I have a moment to candidly ask them something I’m always wondering.
“So, there hasn’t been any school for a little bit. Do you miss it, or are things fun and okay?”
The one boy keeps an eyeball to the ground through the magnifying glass I let him borrow.
He roars, “it has been the best time to explore and be with my friends!”
Extra emphasis on the word “best.” He meant it. So did his little brother and his two buddies who accompanied him for the adventure.
When kids are denied opportunities to summer outings, their two most exploratory months of not only the natural world, but their social skills, may become altered.
On another outing with a different family, one of the young guys was full of fire and energy. He’s going to be a rock climber one day, likely in this same area we’re touring together.
He tells me how he’s excited to see his “back-to-school” materials packed up. He told me of his new backpack, and how he’s excited to see his friends again. Standing in the depths of this forest, I transported myself to a time where I was just a kid, down here with my own parents, definitely excited about the same thing.
His siblings are strong ones, making the trek through the muggy and tropical-feeling Carolinian forest. His oldest sister seems pretty okay about the whole change-up. Relaxed and easy-going, she made me hope not too many kids spend as much time recycling pandemic thoughts as we do.
“The germs are out there,” says one of the boys from my previous tours, as I sadly declined a high-five opportunity from him. Bizarre. Moments later in the hike, we found a tulip tree growing near his backyard. I told him how rare and significant that was. He took zero social distancing measures, and a moment later, he had stopped to hug this tree appreciatively for a long moment.
His brother and buddies stood by quietly, without judgement. I pictured them in 10 years; it was hilarious. I might be wrong, but they probably have some great canoe and camping trips ahead of them. The camaraderie and sense of wonder for the outdoors is already alive.
Adventurous spirits and strong little legs will hopefully continue to prevail when other opportunities remain on hold this summer.
With the last few outings I’ve had with families, the innocence has been real. It was the most “normal” stuff I’ve seen in months. It made me realize how much I missed educating the young about our natural wonders, while they experience new places and understand what’s available in their backyard. Especially here in Niagara. They are all students of life.