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The Teeple, Morey, Beal and Bernstein children prepare for a walk at Willow Brook Farm Preserve in Pembroke.

Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that I enjoy a good walk in the woods. Dedicated readers also know that I have a son, Abel, who is now seven years old. I’ve been taking Abel for nature walks since he was an infant – first in a Baby Bjorn carrier, then in a jog stroller, and later with him walking along beside me. He really enjoyed these outings when he was little. Now, not so much. “It’s boring, Mom.”

But last spring I figured out a way to make it less boring. Invite friends. Not just one or two, but a whole pack of them. Boys plus woods equals fun! So this summer I planned a few group nature walks, inviting some of Abel’s friends and their families to join us at some of the more child-friendly local conservation properties. And I was delighted to see that it worked. The boys had fun . . . and the adults enjoyed themselves as well.
Our first exploration was at the Norris Reservation on Dover Street in Norwell, which is managed by The Trustees of Reservations. I’d picked up this year’s South Shore Quests booklet, so we followed the route suggested there, looking for clues that would ultimately reveal where the Quests box was hidden (an opportunity for us to sign a guest book and stamp our Quest passport). The clues gave us a compelling reason to carry on, despite some wet weather, but I’m not sure we even needed the incentive. The boys were quite happy to be scampering up and down the trails, finding and carrying big sticks, and looking for snakes and frogs – they found plenty of the latter. I didn’t bother to try to teach them anything about the land we were exploring – except when they asked, and they had some good questions – but instead I just let them absorb the forest environment, and enjoy themselves. And they did.
Our second trip followed another South Shore Quest, this time at Willow Brook Farm Preserve on Route 14 in Pembroke (the property is managed by the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts). The weather was better, and the boys (plus a couple girls this time) once again found simple ways to entertain themselves. Climbing on boulders and fallen trees was as big a hit as climbing the tall wooden observation tower. But it seemed like simply moving in a pack – there were eight or nine children altogether – was the real attraction. Something primal was happening among those kids – they really enjoyed being outside together, following a trail and some basic “stay within my sight” type of rules, but otherwise being able to make their own fun. We went on from that excursion to a stop at The Blueberry Farm in Hanson, for Pick Your Own berries, which made the day even more special.
I’m hoping to continue these group nature outings throughout the year. I do understand how a simple walk in the woods, even with plenty of flora and fauna to investigate, might not be all that appealing to a youngster, but I think we’re onto something here, with the group dynamic. If anything, it’s a welcome alternative to all of the other organized activities these children participate in. Dance/art/music classes, sports, martial arts – and of course school – all have their place, but it’s really nice to be outdoors with the kids, doing nothing in particular except following a trail through the woods or a meadow, and seeing what the children are inspired to do.
by Kezia Bacon
August 2013
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 15 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com