Monthly Archives: November 2009

City Slickers No More: Urban Teens & Nature

We spend a lot of time talking about kids here at The Grass Stain Guru, but it’s time to give the teens their due. As the above video highlights so nicely, there are amazing programs going on across the country helping to connect teens with nature in a variety of ways. In the case of urban teens, these programs are often the first exposure they have to nature beyond the birds and squirrels that they may never think to notice in the cityscape.

Time in nature is important to all of us, regardless of age, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. It is one of the most basic of all human needs — a connection to the land where we live and things so much bigger than us. There are treasures to be found there for each off us, and a vital sense of wonder and personal perspective that can only be found in nature.

Words to live by: You never get too old to engage your sense of wonder.

Below you will find 10 tips for helping the teens in your world get outside. It might take a little effort to get older kids and teens unplugged, but it is well worth it.

I would love to hear about other programs that are doing great work — so feel free to add them to the comments section or send me an email.

10 Tips to Get ‘em Outside:

1.    Start when they are young. An obvious tip, but extremely important, is to make sure that the outdoors is part of your family life and your child’s life right from the start. As with anything –  from discipline to healthy eating habits –  if you wait until the teen years to introduce something, it is going to be an uphill battle.

2.    Appeal to the natural interests, whether it’s art, science, sports, or writing. There is an outdoor activity that matches  just about any interest, so that’s a great place to start.

3.    Get their friends involved. It’s natural for teens to travel in groups and to thrive on social interaction with their peers. It’s all part of proper development.  Don’t fight it – harness it. Ask if any of their friends are into outdoor activities and encourage them to join in.

4.    Offer to host an outdoor event, like a hiking trip, a camp-out, or a fishing trip for a small group of their friends. Take along a friend or two of your own, so you can be seen enjoying the activity versus acting as a chaperon.

5.    Tap into service learning requirements at school. Encourage your teen to look into service opportunities at parks, natural refuges, trail systems, and other outdoor venues that offer service hours and unique opportunities to learn new skills and shadow professionals.

6.    Take advantage of outdoor recreation clubs and park and recreation events in your area. You’ll find hikes, kayaking trips, mountain biking clubs, and more. It’s a great way to get older teens involved in a social setting, with a built in safety net of staff from local organizations. Check your local paper or parks and recreation department for opportunities near you.

7.    Put that love a technology to good use! Have your teen find podcasts on outdoor topics to help  guide their exploration or get them to help you learn how to Geocache. Of course, let the technology help guide the experience, but not replace it. Make sure to tuck whatever devices you are using away to fully immerse yourselves in the natural setting.

8.    When school projects come up, help them brainstorm ideas that have an outdoor element, such as stream monitoring, alternative energy solutions, or campus greening projects.

9.    Have your teens plan a special family day trip or weekend get-away. Your only input is distance traveled and a cost limit. Let them take the lead and surprise you.

10.    Set the example. If you are constantly online for work or pleasure, tied to a PDA, or on the phone, you cannot fault your teen for doing the same. Model balance, and let them see you enjoying doing things outside. Fun is contagious!

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

Happy Turkey Day!

my mother's pumpkin pie

Mmmmmmm. Pie.

Warmest wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! I am thankful for all your support here at The Grass Stain Guru and appreciate you all so much.

I will be very busy eating pie for a few days, but will get back to blogging on Monday.

After the turkey coma wears off, don’t forget to unplug and go outside and play. Go hiking, build a fort, go sledding if you already have snow on the ground — just enjoy your extra time off and play and then play some more!

See ya outside! ~ The Grass Stain Guru, lover of pumpkin pie

Creative Commons License photo credit: Maggie Hoffman

Creativity Revisited: Decorating Your Own Cathedral

TGSG Note: Sometimes as a writer, a topic or post just resonates with us — for whatever reason. This post is one of those for me. In fact, if I had to pick one thing to share, it would probably be this piece.

Recently, I was discussing Gilbert’s work with a friend — someone who I respect very much. While he had read the book Eat, Pray, Love (well, to be honest, he never finished it), he had never heard her speak. He was not a fan of the book, and while I am, I tried to explain that the book paled in comparison to seeing her speak. Well, at least for me.

Now, I am not really a woo-woo out there person, but I will tell you that I feel this odd kinship with Elizabeth Gilbert, a woman I was slow to hear about. For whatever reason, I didn’t read her book for the longest time. A friend had finally gone out and gotten it for me, but I let it sit on my coffee table for months and months. Not thinking, I casually tossed it in my bag for a work trip I was taking to Italy, where I finally got around to reading it.

So you see — here is the weird thing: my maiden name is Elizabethe Gilbert. I just so happened to have been living in Rome at the same time as Elizabeth Gilbert, where I too was trying to start life over and get my footing, and it was at this time I really started flirting with the idea of becoming a writer.

While I loved the book (although, oddly enough India was my favorite part), it wasn’t until I saw her speak that things really started to click for me. Thoughts set in motion. Permission granted. Calm, and more.

Below you will find the original post, and I have added her TED talk as well. I hope that my friend will give her a few minutes of his time and see if his perspective shifts at all.

I hope that each of you have a person, a song, a poem — whatever — that gets your wheels turning and grants you permission to be OK with wherever you are headed, even if you don’t quite know yet.

Thanks for indulging my personal side today. ~ Bethe

I find myself writing about creativity for the second time this week. After all, it is something that we associate with childhood — make-believe, capturing the world in the colors of a 64 pack of crayons, or the wonderful and winding words of  a Shel Silverstein poem. Creativity should be the cornerstone of childhood (and adulthood as well).

I had the opportunity to see Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, speak last night. I was as struck by her engaging storytelling and warm spirit as I was for her quest to understand things — to ask questions and seek truths in a really joyful and thoughtful way. Not in a prescriptive and dogmatic way, or with an agenda of outcomes as her driving force, already answering questions yet to be asked. Her creativity is evident not only in her writing, but in the way her mind works, and the way she allows it to work.

She told a story about seeing the National Cathedral as a young girl, and being so inspired by the beauty and dimensions of its physical space that she wanted to recreate it in her bedroom. Right that very moment — leave DC and head home so she could get started on her own masterpiece — to start decorating her own cathedral.

How much do we love that about children?! Because they don’t just think those delicious thoughts — they act on them. They decorate their own cathedrals. If we let them have room to breathe — have time to just think, play, and make mistakes. If we nurture this discovery process, children find their own voices — their own creativity.

As parents, educators, and/or caring adults, we have to allow this to happen. It’s a conscious decision on our parts through choices that are sometimes unpopular, like limiting screen-time, including “educational” TV or video games. Actions like reducing the number of structured out-of-school activities kids are signed-up for, encouraging outdoor play and the exploration of the natural world, and trips to the library are also important ways to foster creativity.

Creativity must also find its way into our education system, via reform at all levels. Education is about far more than learning the facts — of learning what to think. Good education is learning how to think – how to ask questions and problem solve. How to love to learn. One size does not fit all.

Often, I think that creativity is attached to only the arts — drama, dance, music, and so on. Indeed, those are all creative, but so is math, science, economics, and the like. Creativity is the root of all those things. Of everything. Often, when someone says a person is creative, it can be meant as a slight. “Oh, he’s so creative,” can really mean, “Oh, he’s not too bright, but he’s an amazing dancer.” How sad is that?

Creativity. The power to innovate — all kids have this. We all have this, actually. It’s just the ability to allow ourselves to tap into it or give ourselves the time to embrace it that we seem to have misplaced. It’s time to take it back. It’s time to stop looking at creativity as something that is second, third or tenth on the list of things to value and nurture in our children and in society.

Let the children in your world decorate their own cathedrals. And while you’re at it, decorate your own.

Below you will find Gilbert’s TED speech. While I wish I could share her talk from the National Cathedral that gave me so much insight and calm about where I was at the time and allowing myself to finally become a writer, this one is also amazingly powerful and inspiring.

For a little additional inspiration, why not go see what Mother Nature is up to? She has creativity down in spades.

See you outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

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