Discovering Nature's Playground
As adults, many of us who live in the city now know the value of our childhood outdoor experiences. We marveled at the fragility of wildflowers; we felt the exhilaration of catching our first big fish or narrowly missing that submerged log as we shot through the river's white water. We learned to enjoy and to respect nature.
Now, as parents of an urban-locked generation, we need to be mindful of what our children stand to lose if we do not provide them with opportunities to experience nature through camping, boating, hunting and fishing.
In his youth, Brooks Adams, son of an ambassador to Great Britain, made this entry in his diary: "Went fishing with my father - the most glorious day of my life." So great was the influence of this one day's personal experience with his father that, for 30 years thereafter, he made repeated references to the glowing memory of that day. Strangely enough, Brooks' father, Charles Francis Adams, made a different comment in his diary about that day: "Went fishing with my son. A day wasted."
Adults get in such a hurry and often find it difficult to slow down long enough to show a youngster how to do something or to experience something. Taking time for family outings provides the opportunity for precious interaction between people, without phone calls, errands, strict schedules or television and video games.
Children need wholesome experiences, along with a sense of accomplishment and recognition, and young children need to learn how to play - to stay healthy mentally and physically.
"Uncontrolled aggressions within us are major causes of mental illness," said the late Dr. Karl Menninger, eminent psychiatrist and founder of the recommended play as a means of channeling off excess aggression and as one of the best antidotes for low morale and other conditions that might lead to mental illness.
"His correlation between constructive play and mental health is even more prevalent in today's society," agrees Dr. Joe McCormick, psychologist at St. Mary's Mental Health Center in Jefferson City.
A 1990 survey of how Missourians spend their leisure time revealed that only 5 in 10 residents chose outdoor activities as their preferred recreation, over sports and watching television. The only exercise these spectators get is watching others. Can this be considered recreation?
Not according to the New College Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, which defines recreation as "refreshment of one's mind and body after labor through diverting