I think that early experiences can shape a child for life.
Look at my daughter, for example. She was born at Riverside Methodist Hospital 30 years ago, and I swear the staff transfused her blood scarlet and gray. How else to explain her allegiance to Ohio State University, when her dad (from Indiana) and I (from Wisconsin) clearly impressed upon her the superiority of two other Big Ten schools?
All joking aside, my blood oozes pine sap and lily pads. That's a direct result of spending parts of every summer, from the age of 1 month, in the north woods of my home state.
One of my earliest nature memories was standing on a boardwalk that extended into the Horicon (Wisconsin) marsh, near where some relatives lived. I may be romanticizing my memory, but I retained the feeling that only waving reeds and cattails, raucous red-winged blackbirds and blues skies can engender.
The natural world is an important part of me, and it directs a lot of what I do: my career, my penchant for recycling every little thing, my desire to impart in others a love for Mother Earth and all it contains.
At Preservation Parks, we love it when we see a young couple walking along park trails, a preschooler by the hand and a baby in a backpack carrier. We immediately envision those children five years from now; they are the ones to beg their parents to let them wade in the creek, or touch the snake, or stop to look at trees.
Our Little Adventurers program takes that initial walk along the trail to the next level.
Once a month in the summer, parents and other caregivers can bring their littlest ones -- up to age 5 -- to a park for an introduction to the natural world, led by our naturalists.
"We want to provide a positive experience in nature," said Liz Neroni, a Preservation Parks naturalist who leads the program. "The little kids can have fun outside with other kids. ... Some seem a little timid at first, but then they are laughing, giggling and running around."
The program is structured for very young children. Various learning stations are set up, and the children can participate in one, all or none, "depending on how they feel that day," Neroni said.
This year's first Little Adventurers program, "Busy Bees," will be at 10 a.m. June 20 at Emily Traphagen Park, 5094 Seldom Seen Road. Among other activities, children can search for stuffed-animal bees hidden within the natural play area of the park.
Dave Noble, apiarist with Stratford Ecological Center, will be present with an activity as well. After the children are through with the various stations, they can take a short hike.
The other two Little Adventurers programs will focus on the Ice Age (July 18 at Shale Hollow Park) and turtles (Aug. 15 at Deer Haven Park.) These programs are free and do not require registration.
There is a ton of evidence that interactions with nature do a ton of good for children, making them calmer and more focused, healthier because of the outdoor physical activity, more social and better able to learn.
But among the barriers to enjoying nature -- and thus, reaping all these great benefits -- is an unfamiliarity with the outdoors that can escalate into fear. I readily understand that; despite my love for the outdoors, I hate touching spider webs, and that determines how I walk through the woods. I usually make someone walk in front of me to break the webs.
But a lot of fears -- the dark woods, snakes, even flitting insects such as dragonflies -- can be overcome as children become more and more familiar with wildlife, their habitats and their behavior.
Little Adventurers and our dozens of education programs for all ages build a comfort level that eventually can grow into a deep love of nature. That's our goal: to create a generation of young people who bleed oak trees and wildflowers, and who grow into the stewards of our natural world.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.