The other day I joined my daughter’s grade 4 class on a field trip to the Seymour Watershed. Since watershed and salmon conservation have been the foundation of my career for over 14 years, I was excited to go. Plus, helping teach kids about nature is a great reason to get out from behind my computer for the day!
I may live in the suburbs now, but I when I was young, I had a much wilder backyard. In grades 1 and 2, we lived on a quarter section outside of Cochrane, Alberta where we couldn’t see our nearest neighbours. For grades 3-7, we moved to a small cluster of houses on the North Bench of Moberly Mountain, just outside of Golden, BC. Most of my free time was spent outside, horseback riding, bike riding, fishing, tobogganing in the winter, hiking, hunting, and camping. Moose, bear, coyote, and deer were frequent visitors, and you learn a lot about different types of trees when you rely on them to heat your house through the winter.
Judging by the reaction of my daughter’s classmates to the pit toilets on the field trip, they’ve had a rather different childhood so far! It quickly became evident that the majority of the kids hadn’t spent many days outside like this before. But it was also obvious that they really enjoyed themselves!
The field trip, organized by Metro Vancouver, was fantastic. Through various games the kids learned about the three main watersheds that provide Metro Vancouver’s drinking water (Capilano, Seymour and Coquitlam), where the water gets treated, and how it makes the journey to their homes. They also learned that Metro Vancouver is one of the few places that restrict public access to these watersheds and that they were getting VIP access as part of this tour – including a trip to look down from the dam over the Seymour Reservoir. Most importantly, they learned about important water saving tips that they can use at home (like the fact that lawns go dormant in hot dry summers and will come back in the fall even without any watering!).
We then got to enjoy an hour-long hike where we saw old growth trees, learned about forest food webs, the importance of nurse logs, how downed cedar acts like a sponge on the floor of these temperate rainforests, smelled skunk cabbage, listened to black capped chickadees and other birds, and saw just how fast a hare can run. They also learned what to do if we came across a bear, although they were relieved to not have to put this drill into practise.
Best of all was witnessing a joyful transformation: for a few hours on this field trip, I saw twenty-five kids completely unplugged from modern gadgets and technology, but so much more connected to the world around them.
Being a seasoned parent who understands how kids think, I knew better than to draw too much attention to the health benefits they were getting from being outside. But the benefits are real. Research clearly shows that time in nature has clinically proven health benefits including reducing stress and improving immunity. In Japan, the practice is referred to as shinrin yoku or “forest bathing”, recognizing that the sounds, smells and time spent in natural spaces benefits us greatly. That’s why Watershed Watch has long been promoting the concept of “healthy watersheds = healthy humans”. In the lower mainland we are extremely privileged to have so many easily accessible natural spaces.
This trip was a great reminder of how important – and fun – it can be to turn off a screen and recharge outdoors. My advice is simple… get outside to enjoy nature with the ones you love as often as you can. The connections you will make with the natural spaces around you, and each other, are priceless.