I’ll become a first time grandparent in a few months! I will NOT be called ‘memaw’ or ‘nana’, and ‘grandma’ is completely out of the question. My name is Becky and I’d be perfectly happy if my new grandson just called me ‘Becky’. But in the end I think we all decided that ‘Bebe’ would be acceptable, for now anyway, until that precious little bundle utters something completely out of the blue and I’m forever stuck with it. Trust me, I will be having long conversations with him on this subject BEFORE he can speak.

As a soon-to-be grandparent, I often think about what I could possibly offer to a child so new to the world. I have this pressing need to be an impactful and positive influence on this child, the newest member of this growing family.

I think one of the best ways I can help him to grow and mature is by letting him get his tiny little feet muddy the first time I take him to a creek. Yes folks, a small muddy non-chlorinated brown body of water, full of all kinds of living things that you can’t always see. It’s perfect. Just us with the turtles, fish, and birds. No highway noises and no electronics. I can already imagine the fun we’ll have.

My dream is to watch that small boy evolve into a responsible, but freedom loving young adult who embraces and respects all aspects of nature. I have the same dream for all children.

GET CHILDREN OUT OF THE HOUSE

You can’t catch crickets sitting in front of a TV. Everyone needs to get out of the house and explore the world together. It starts there. The more kids are exposed to the living things around them, the less likely they are to be afraid of them and even more less likely to simply destroy them out of fear. Take out the fear, insert awe and wonder.

We need to realize how much influence our adult children will have on the future of our precious and very fragile Florida environment. To insure the preservation of our ever dwindling pristine wild areas, our children and grandchildren need to understand it. To understand it, they must be immersed in it. And I mean daily!

I started by taking my son outside everyday when he was a very young infant. His eyes would light up, he noticed everything — every bird that flew overhead, every fish that jumped caught his attention even before he could completely focus on them. I saw the wonder of it all building up in him. The journey had begun.

We’d watch sunsets together every evening and tried to catch a full moon rise every chance we got. I would load him up in a backpack carrier and go for long walks along the waterfront, picking wildflowers, watching butterflies and listening to the waves lap at the shore, (well until he got to be about 40 pounds and we switched to a bike seat.)

Something as simple as a walk around the block offers an opportunity to teach our kids about God’s beautiful world. Birds, bees, butterflies and squirrels are all around if you take the time to look. Teach your kids to take the time to look.

CULTIVATE AN INTEREST

Encourage your kids to get their hands dirty by getting your own hands dirty. A good sweat never killed anyone so let them experience it firsthand.

Teach them how seeds turn into food, flowers and trees. Plant something. Plant lots of things and then watch them grow along with your little ones.

Put them on the hunt for insects, bird’s nests or gopher burrows.

It’s amazing how much wildlife you can see coming and going from an oak tree on any given day. Add bird feeders and a bird bath and really get a window seat show.

Explore the neighborhood or nearby parks. Let them touch and smell wild plants and flowers. Ask them questions and answer all theirs as best you can. Hunt for tracks and listen for the sounds of animals that call these wild areas home but also teach you little people to leave wild animals alone, not out of a sense of fear, but out of respect for the animals.

Take your kids camping. I don’t mean in a lush, air conditioned RV in a park with a pool and WiFi. Take them to the woods, camp in a tent and do it for several days. It’s the best way I can think of to really teach our future adults to appreciate the real Florida. Other than a hot shower and maybe a more comfortable sleeping arrangement, you’ll find you really didn’t miss the suburban world that much.

In this part of Florida you can’t go more than a few miles without running into water of some sort. Creeks and rivers, ponds and lakes, too many bays to mention, that river of grass we call the Everglades, the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. Pick one and introduce your kids to it.

Start small and work your way up explaining how all these bodies of water are linked to each other and to us. Show them how much you care about each and every one of these and the environments that feed them as well as the plants and animals that depend upon them.

Once they get it, our children will do all they can to save it. Wonderful memories made as a young child are not forgotten into adulthood.

So here’s the gig: Helping our kids and grandkids to understand how important our natural environment is and how sustaining and preserving it directly affects them will go a long way towards encouraging these same kids, as adults, to be ever vigilant and protective of natural Florida ecosystems, but it’s our responsibility as their life guides to show them how important it is to us.

Becky Copenhaver is a Certified Master Gardener, Certified Horticulture Professional and former Certified Landscape Designer. She is the owner of Becky’s Garden Shoppe at 6450 Elliott St in Punta Gorda and can be reached at 941-621-8551 or beckysgardenshoppe@comcast.net

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