Whether you’re on a smartphone or computer, sites such as Facebook and YouTube are always at your fingertips. Unfortunately, this technology has a tendency to become all-consuming. With the internet being easily accessible, it seems so effortless to just plop down on the couch and watch random videos to your heart’s content. Oftentimes, technological advances are great. They can offer ways to learn a new language on your own, or instruct you on how to fix a broken something. They can provide information you’d otherwise have to peruse thousands of books to find. Remember encyclopedias? But sometimes it’s not so great. Those videos may turn into hours of laziness. That random game may turn into a week-long attempt at building the best city in Minecraft.
With kids, it’s even more important to make sure they experience other activities than just screen time. That’s where a new local outdoor educational program, Nature Connect, comes into play. “[It] was created because I noticed that so many children were spending more time indoors and in front of screens,” founder Brinkley Hutchings said. “I think children are meant to be outdoors: running and playing, getting their hands dirty, going on fun adventures and learning about the place where we live. Nature Connect was created to facilitate those kinds of childhood experiences.”
Nature Connect was originally started in North Carolina. “I studied environmental science at UNC Wilmington, and when I was ready to launch Nature Connect, my friends in Wilmington wanted to help round up the first class,” Hutchings said. “It was a big success, and we established the programs there over the course of a year.” In 2017, she was ready to move back home. That’s when she launched the second chapter of Nature Connect. “It has been so great to be home, involve longtime friends and family in the programs and enjoy my favorite childhood places with children today.”
Being outdoors not only teaches you and your children about the world you inhabit, but the health benefits of leaving the sanitized world of our homes are numerous. Many studies have shown that spending time outside, be that taking a nature walk or playing at the beach, can reduce feelings of depression and stress. It can even boost your levels of creativity and focus. Really, too much screen time can drag us down, and Nature Connect is trying to move toward building us up. “I hope that through Nature Connect children and families will enjoy and appreciate the outdoors together. I hope that children will fall in love with the outdoors, so they will become adults who take good care of the place where we live,“ Hutchings said.
She’s not the only local lady who is passionate about the outdoors and our environment. Valerie Longa recently joined the Nature Connect program as a program facilitator.
“When I first heard about Nature Connect, I was so pleased to know a program like it exists in our area,” she said. “Both as a mom and someone who has worked with our local environment for 10 or more years, I see immense value in Nature Connect. I’ve always loved working outdoors and educating others about being stewards of our environment, so I reached out to Brinkley to see what opportunities were available in working with her. I started with the summer camps in June and loved it right away. Now that fall has arrived, I help facilitate our homeschool and after-school programs.”
Classes for children are just the beginning. They’ve started offering adult classes as well. Nature Connect hopes to bring people together by helping to clean up and protect our local environment.
“I think the most important thing we can do for our local environment is act with future generations in mind, whether that is protecting water quality or preserving land,” Hutchings said. “We can all start with taking care of the places we love and sharing them with others. The more of us that appreciate this beautiful place where we live, the more of us are invested in keeping it healthy for generations to come.”
To help in spreading the word about Nature Connect and raise money for the Nature Connect Scholarship Fund, a fundraiser will take place on Nov. 10. The goal of the fund is to make their programs more accessible to all children. The fundraiser event will be “a fun and educational boat trip,” Hutchings said. “We are inviting people to join us for a delta sunset eco tour with WildNative Tours. We’ll take a sunset boat cruise where we’ll learn about the delta and enjoy quality time with friends and family.”
Spending time outdoors is beneficial to all, and it can be extremely fulfilling to be a part of nature. “The most rewarding part of the work has been seeing the inquisitive interest of the kids in all the discoveries they make in nature,” Longa said. “Also, seeing their evolution of what may have been initially out of their comfort zone to considering the outdoors as their go-to for fun and adventure. Knowing that this work is helping to ensure a healthy, vibrant future for these children is very positive.”
For more information on Nature Connect and the programs offered, visit their website: natureconnectalabama.org.
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