Igniting the Spark: Encouraging Kids to Spend Time in the Forest

Nancy and Harlow Jacobson's tree house complex

“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children's memories, the adventures we've had together in nature will always exist.”
Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

So many of the landowners I work with are eager for their grandchildren to visit their forest properties. They want so badly for future generations to love their property the same way they do. In a world where trees are competing with the Kardashians, Halo, Facetime, Angry Birds, constant texting, Facebook, YouTube, and on, and on, and on, it’s not hard to decipher why kids are not stimulated by the forest. It’s just not as exciting as all the things that they have been exposed to all their lives. The brunt of it is that nature is ‘boring’ (this is a generalization directed towards the majority of children).

I have always firmly believed that inspiring excitement is about ‘lighting a spark’ in people, especially children. If we can do something that gets them excited about being in the woods, just one time, maybe they will want to come back again. And again. And again. Maybe they will fall in love with the trees like many of us have.

I also believe that this ignition point must be intentional. It is most likely not going to happen by simply taking kids out into the forest. There is a need for a ‘hook,’ to get kids out for the first couple times. Get them excited. I have seen landowners add a pond with a rope swing for their grandkids to swim in during the summertime. Or build a relatively simple zip line through the trees. But today I would like to feature a Women Owning Woodlands member from Oregon, and her husband, who have went above and beyond to encourage their kids and grandkids to come play in the woods.

Nancy Jacobson and her husband Harlow own a little over 5 acres amidst many other forested parcels in Northwest Oregon. In their woods, near their home, they have constructed a complex tree house, deck, and tree boat. All of which are connected by a suspension bridge.

Kid's tree house

“We built the tree house complex mainly for our grandkids, as a way to interest them in coming here, and it was a fun project for us as well. They had their first "camp-outs" here, in the tree house, on its deck, and also in our tent,” Nancy expresses. “They helped us construct a fire pit, learned how to build camp fires, and have roasted many hot dogs and s'mores with us. They were introduced to many new plants, animal tracks, snakes, salamanders, tiny fish in our stream, our local deer, etc. and they had time for free, creative play in a beautiful environment. They have much more appreciation of Mother Nature now, and of caring for, protecting, and preserving our environment… Our grandkids love to explore and play in our woods.”

The Jacobson’s also encourage friends and neighbors to bring over their children and grandchildren to explore the woods, the creek, and the tree house complex.

“It is such a great learning opportunity for kids (and adults) who often spend more time with electronic devices and don’t have a good connection with nature. Whenever we have folks visit us, we encourage them to explore the woods with us,” says Nancy.

“If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or is one more chore, then the belief in perfection and the chore defeats the joy. It's a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it's even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it's a lot more fun.”

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Nancy and her husband also enjoying recreating in their woodland themselves. They love to hike their trails with their puppy, “For me, being close to nature is so important,” says Nancy. “Just walking through the forest gives me a sense of peace and serenity. Seeing a family of owls or a coyote or a deer, listening to the rush of the water in the stream and the calling of the birds and the rustling of the leaves, watching the sway of the large trees in the wind, they all give me such indescribable joy.”

“We feel so blessed to be surrounded by such a paradise and want to encourage others of all ages to discover, or rediscover, the joys of our natural surroundings.”