Inspiring Lifelong Outdoor Kids

The topic of our impromptu confab outside Ellensburg’s Bi-Mart was “getting and keeping little kids hooked on outdoor stuff.” Homey, hand wrapped around a couple shiny new youth fishing rod/reel sets, had two questions.

“Yeah,” he said, “I really want to get my preschoolers hooked on fishing, but more than that, Jules and I are wondering about getting them outdoors in some sort of school or regular activity. Friends have mentioned KEEN, but where do we start?”

KEEN (the Kittitas Environmental Education Network), of course, is our very active Central Washington kids’ advocate, under its Outdoor Nature School banner. It offers a Pond to Pines summer camp, the summer-long Science in the Parks Program across Ellensburg, and that great little Friday pre-school class at Helen McCabe State Park. I figured they might yet get their little ones into the kind of program they wanted, and a moment on our cellular devices found KEEN’s site at www.ycic.org/outdoor-school.

As they look ahead to keeping their youngsters involved, I suggested they might find any number of kid initiatives by googling something like “kids in the woods initiatives.” A big one is the federal Every Kid in a Park initiative, which gives every fourth grader across America a free pass (family included) to federal parks, lands and waters for one year (everykidinapark.gov/). There is a terrific set of worldwide ideas and resources on the Richard Louv-inspired Children & Nature Network at www.childrenandnature.org. For good measure, I suggested they pick up two books: Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature.

“Okay, cool,” Homey said. “Now, what about the fishing stuff? I love fishing, but it can be pretty boring for little guys who need action. How do we get that started?”

“Well,” I opined, “there are any number of kids-only fishing sites around Paradise. Check the new fishing pamphlet and try one of those. There are plenty of hungry fish of various types scattered about. The last of the Hucklings always loved Helen McCabe Pond – they caught everything from tiny sunfish to a five-plus-pound channel catfish there. And they liked the trout in the little youth-only streams around town. Find some spot with hungry little fish and enjoy their joy. Oh. And another book with some useful info is William G. Tapply’s Pocket Water – Confessions of a Restless Angler. The chapter you want is ‘Raising Fly Fishermen for Fun and Profit.’ Get your kids on the water. Treasure these years with them…”

That particular chapter in Tapply’s book is loaded with wisdom. His ideas are just as much about helping them master life itself as fishing. Following are excerpts I particularly enjoy.

“Kids—boys or girls, it doesn’t matter – are born with an innate love of fishing. The tug and throb at the end of the line triggers in every kid something atavistic that causes her to laugh and squeal ‘I got one!  I got one!’  Unless some adult comes along to spoil it, that kid is hooked. [I]f you resist the urge to tell her what she’s doing wrong, she will gradually get better at it.

“Kids are democratic. To them, a fish is a fish. Sunfish, horned pout, bass, trout:  the main difference to a kid is that sunfish are the prettiest. All shapes, sizes, and colors of fish merit equal fascination, and the more different species kids encounter, the better they like it. Catching many small fish is better than a few large ones, although they do like the scary hard pull of an occasional big one, and they should have that experience, too.

“Kids like to catch fish. Adults learn the aesthetic pleasures of fishing without catching anything, but it’s an acquired taste… Take your kid to a warmwater pond, slough, or lazy creek, where life fairly bubbles in abundance and variety, and where you’re never sure what might be tugging at the end of the line, but it’s a sure bet that something will be. Choose a warm, soft, sunny summer afternoon, even if you think the fish will bite better in the rain or toward dusk… Adults can fool themselves into enjoying discomfort, but kids are too smart for that.

“Even if you want to raise a trout-fishing partner, start her out on panfish. Kids are big on instant gratification. They want results and they want them now… They have short attention spans. Their minds wander… Their entire world is a wonder. Frogs, dragonflies, painted turtles, ducks, muskrats – all those denizens of warmwater places fascinate kids as much as fish do…

“Give them short, frequent doses of fishing. Anticipate when they’ll get bored and quit five minutes earlier. If they’re not catching anything, do something else. Try frog hunting or crayfish catching. Throw stones…capture rusty beer cans and bring them home with you…don’t make a lesson out of it… Kids are, in fact, suspicious of lessons… Stay out of their way…  They will become skilled and will ask when they’re ready.

“Kids want to know the names of things. Kids like it when you can tell them what things are… they also like it when you tell them you don’t know. This assures them that they can trust you.

“Kids notice things adults take for granted or have stopped noticing – the ‘chirrup’ of red-winged blackbirds…a swallow’s wingtip on the surface of a glassy pond…the garish neon shades that dress damselflies and dragonflies…the purple of a bluegill’s throat…  When they point it out to you, you’ll marvel at it, too, the way you once did…

“Adults can learn a lot from kids…”

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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