Empowering Our Multiracial Kids To Love The Outdoors
It’s been a few months since I sat in a conference room at a swanky hotel in downtown LA and listened to a panel, sponsored by KOA (Kampgrounds of America), on whether or not minorities (Hispanics, specifically) care about the National Parks. The question of the hour was: how do we empower minorities to utilize and appreciate the outdoors.
The conversation really struck me at my core – the part of me that is still a little girl who loves to get dirty, while exploring her surroundings – and I went home to immediately research what I had learned.
I’m going to be honest: the statistics really bummed me out.
As a Latina mom raising multiracial children, hearing about the cultural and historical barriers that has prevented people to access even the purest of things – Mother Nature, herself – made me feel so very sad. Powerless, even. This article from the NY Times described the, “nervous banter as we cruised through small rural towns on our way to a park. And there were jokes about finding a “Whites Only” sign at the entrance to our destination or the perils of being lynched or attacked while collecting firewood after the sun went down. Our cultural history taught us what to expect.” And after discussing this perspective with my African American husband, I’ve come to realize these cultural barrier to the outdoors might be more ingrained than I expected.
Why Minority Kids Need National Parks
Even during the panel of outdoor enthusiasts spoke about the staggering statistics, including the super smart Richard Rojas of Latino Outdoors, I made a conscience decision: nothing will stop me from raising kids who know, love and feel both entitled and responsible to nature and our National Parks.
More than anything, I want my kids to grow up happy. And I know how being outside makes me feel; how sunsets bring me peace, how the rhythm of the ocean tide can slow my pace, how exploring new regions makes me think. In an article on Psychology Today, “the results of [their] research suggest that “nature relatedness has a distinct happiness benefit” beyond the more generalized benefit of feeling connected to family, friends, and home.” So of course I want my kids to fall in love with the outdoors!
There is also another huge reason why people of color should feel ownership of our country’s National Parks: they won’t survive without us. National Parks Services is tied to public funding and, “We know that visitation does not reflect the diversity of the nation,” says Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, in an article on minority usage of National Parks to NPR. “And that’s a concern.” That concern being, with a society becoming more brown by the generation, who will lead the legacy of the National Parks?
5 Empowering Tips to Foster Outdoor Love
In order to empower your multiracial children to love the outdoors, you have to walk the walk – or, better yet, hike the hike. My kids are the best at spotting my half-way enthusiasm or lack of authenticity and follow my lead accordingly. If your kids are great at calling your bluff, my first tip to empowering your kids to love the outdoors is….
Love the Outdoors: You need to really love the outdoors if you want to empower your kids to love it, too. Tap into how you feel when you’re surrounded by nature’s beauty and let your kids see that. That doesn’t mean you have to travel far to access the outdoors. This doesn’t mean you need to know everything, or even anything, about the outdoors. Which leads me to….
Be Curious: I’m a 20 Questions kinda girl and I love that my kids are too. I don’t know about every plant or tree or historical fact, and because I didn’t grow up visiting National Parks, I have a lot to learn about the outdoors, but I DO know how to ask questions. Don’t feel bad about being a novice to hiking or outdoor sports. Who likes a Know-It-All, anyways? Just have a good attitude, ask lots of questions and empower your kids to do the same.
Invest in Gear: To really get out there, kids need some basic gear to keep them comfortable and excited to explore. At the minimum, investing in supportive shoes with tread will go a long way. If their feet are uncomfortable, the tools we rely on to explore, it can be hard to enjoy yourself. I didn’t realize the difference proper gear can make until after I invested in real hiking boots for the family. Sebastian kept thanking me over and over again for buying his ($20) boots… not a huge price tag for such a huge impact.
Engage All The Senses: The beauty of nature is boundless, so plan your visit to National Parks (or anywhere outdoors) with that in mind. Empower your kids by provoking all their senses – running wild, climbing trees and rocks utilizes their large motor skills. Studying leaves, pine cones or looking for the perfect walking stick engages their little fingers. Savoring vast horizons, as well as the tiniest creatures, helps them to appreciate the diversity of the outdoors.
Access Native American History: My husband might actually have Native American ancestry (we’re waiting on our DNA results!), but even if your mixed race kids don’t, tapping into the Native American history specific to the region you’re visiting can have an impact on our brown babies. My 4-year-old son won’t soon forget the detailed conversation we had with a Forest Ranger about the Serrano Indians that lived in the valley we now call Big Bear Lake. For the remainder of that trip, he summoned his Indian boyhood to find arrowheads, skip rocks into the lake and investigate the various plants around us.
That experience has prompted me to access Native American history – through children’s book, crafts, etc – to offer my mixed race son an alternative narrative to the mainstream perception of exploration and outdoor enthusiasm.
I know this post is long and, if you hung out till the end, I know the love of the outdoors lies deep within you too. It’s such an intense love, isn’t it!?
Despite what mainstream media and social media trends might lead us to believe, the outdoors and National Parks are accessible to anyone that yearns for connection to something bigger. Nature is for those of us who are brown. For those of us who are over-weight. For those of us who are young and old or single parents or blended families.
In her purest glory, Mother Nature does not discriminate.