While we all love those adorable family photos plastered all over social media pages featuring kids in their finest Sunday clothes, every hair in place with a sophisticated smile on their sweet little faces, there are some of us who prefer the “puddle jumpers.” Puddle jumpers are kids who aren’t afraid to get dirty, skin their knees, make a mud pie or catch (and release) fireflies. They prefer to be outdoors over playing video games, love animals (arguably more than people) and welcome the opportunity to go on adventures. They can find beauty in a spider web, a solid example of industry in an ant hill and mystery in an empty bird’s nest. Puddle jumpers are how great environmentalists are born. That pretty much sums up the childhood of everyone here at Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful. As a parent, you could have a hand in raising this generation’s next great puddle jumper/aspiring environmentalist. Here are a few tips to getting started…
- Let Things Happen “Naturally” – Plan activities outdoors but keep things loose and somewhat unstructured at first. Let the day take its own course and look to your adventure buddy to define the outing. Go on a nature walk and talk about what you see. Consider bringing a jar to collect “treasure” like cool rocks, a bag to collect litter and a phone or camera to take pictures. If you come across a lot of litter, talk about how it negatively impacts the environment. Discuss the animals and insects you see along the way.
- Check out a Starry Sky Together – Don’t limit your outdoor adventures to merely daylight hours. The world looks and feels different after dark. Park a picnic blanket in the middle of your yard, have a set of flashlights on hand, then look and listen to the world around you. If you have a telescope, break it out and explore the constellations in the night sky. If the kids seem comfortable outdoors at night, you might want to consider planning a camping trip soon.
- Visit a Park (but Make it about More than the Playground) – All kids love to hit the playground, but with SO MANY incredible parks that make up the award-winning Gwinnett County Parks & Recreation Department, make a point to explore as many of them as you can. Visit the Parks & Rec website to learn about the amenities at each, then go on a series of adventures to enjoy each park to the fullest. Get in the habit of bringing a bag with you everywhere you go so you can pick up any trash you come across along the way then put litter in its place. On the drive home, discuss what each of you liked best about that particular park.
- Visit a Farm and/or a Farmers Market – From pick-your-own berry farms to a local farmers market, it’s important to teach our children about the vital role farmers play in our society. Make it an event and enjoy the spoils of your adventure by creating a feast. Talk about what kind of farm they might have if they were farmers. What would they grow? What kinds of animals would they raise?
- Take a Hike and Change their Point of View – Make the drive north to places like Tallulah Gorge State Park or Panther Creek Falls. Really check out the view and talk about how BIG the world is. Even as BIG as it is, we all have a responsibility to keep our corner of it clean and beautiful. Discuss ways each of you can do just that.
- Shoot the Hooch and Change their Point of View Again – After getting a bird’s eye view on a hike up a mountain, you might want to find a way to give your adventure buddy a fish’s eye view. There are several places in and around Gwinnett to rent a tube and set sail down the Chattahoochee or get your hands on a paddle board or canoe and paddle around Lake Lanier. While you enjoy the experience, discuss the animals that live under the water, as well as those who live around it and rely upon it for drinking water. If you see litter, chat about the negative impact it can have on the creatures that live in and around the water, as well as how it affects our overall water quality. People won’t want to swim, splash or float in bodies of water like Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, the Chattahoochee River and more if they’re dirty. The sad truth is that not everyone loves their planet as much as your family does. That’s why your family and other people like you must pull together to clean up beautiful places like the streams, rivers and lakes of Georgia.
- Experience the Georgia Aquarium Together – June marks National Aquarium Month and Atlanta just happens to have one of the GREATEST aquariums in the world. Visit the Georgia Aquarium as a family and discuss how the different ecosystems and creatures displayed tie into the creeks, streams, rivers, lakes and oceans that your kids might be familiar with. Discuss the importance of protecting water sources and the animals that need them to survive.
- Explore the Atlanta Botanical Garden – The gorgeous floral displays of the Atlanta Botanical Garden present an excellent opportunity to chat about pollinators like bees and butterflies, as well as the birds that benefit from the flowers, berries and insects that can be found in gardens. Callaway Gardens is another terrific destination for this pursuit. You and your family can get up close and personal with over 1,000 butterflies at the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center – which just happens to be one of the largest tropical butterfly conservatories in North America. While exploring, challenge them to learn the names of the plants and flowers they see. Bring art pads and pencils and invite everyone to sketch their favorite flower or design their own butterfly. Stop and actually SMELL the roses!
- Pursue Environmental Measures at Home – Sit down as a family and talk about all the ways you can improve your carbon footprint. Are you all set up to recycle properly? Are you committed enough to start composting? Have you considered growing your own vegetable garden? Would you be interested in organizing a neighborhood cleanup event? Discuss ways you can conserve water and energy by taking shorter showers and turning off lights when you leave a room.
- Encourage Your Kids to Take the Lessons They’ve Learned Out into the World – Now that you’ve sparked an interest in environmental stewardship in your children, suggest that they join their school’s Green Team. If their school doesn’t have one, they might be the one to get it started. You can also volunteer as a family for cleanup events, collect recyclables for recycling events and/or adopt a road near home to keep clean – a great way to show pride in your community and set an example for other families to follow.
By doing even a handful of things outlined above, you’re sure to kindle a love affair between your child and the Great Outdoors. It’s entirely possible to have a child who can look GREAT at a photo shoot, but still loves to run around in their bare feet and get their hands dirty. Best of luck to all of you parents of puddle jumpers out there! We hope to welcome your child to our Green Youth Advisory Council one day!!