Friday, July 3, 2009

Sierra Cubs

One of my friends is helping to start a new Sierra Club program here in Oklahoma City - the Sierra Cubs. The goal is to provide opportunities for family-friendly outdoor activities, teach basic Sierra Club principles (i.e. leave no trace), and foster enjoyment and appreciation of the outdooors and nature. The basic idea is to organize outings appropriate for young-ish kids (and their parents) once a month. Outings may be to state parks, nature centers, areas for hiking, museums, even local farms.

I really love this idea because I think that today's urban kids get way too much time indoors and not enough outdoors. They tend to be absorbed in electronic media and unfamiliar with the physical reality around them. Parents are overprotective because of the perceived threat of "child predators" and so kids can no longer roam neighborhoods as they once did. Even when parents can overcome the fears instilled by the media, the social reproach from other parties is often too much to deal with. So kids end up stuck in backyards and supervised playgrounds instead of finding the excitement and discovery for themselves in empty lots, niches of wildness, and local parks (as I did when I was young - only 25 years ago!).

I am a fan of Free-Range Kids, which promotes giving kids more freedom and less constant parental supervision (helicopter parenting). However, I think it is also helpful to have organized outings to actual wild or wilderness areas - a lot of these places don't exist in the suburbs and cities where many kids live anymore. As Last Child in the Woods author Richard Louv points out, it's important for children to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of nature. Without those formative experiences, children don't grow up to appreciate, love, and thus protect natural places.

I'm also excited about the new Sierra Cubs program (may it get off the ground!) because of the opportunity to meet other parents of young kids who are interested in nature and the outdoors.
As we progress through the energy descent, I think we will need all the public support we can get for protection of wild places and open spaces within cities. I hope, and I believe, our kids will get the chance to appreciate these places as they grow up.

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