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Growing Up Wild: Connecting Kids To Nature Has Powerful Impact

Alex Wilke and family
The Ramah-Wilke family at Cape Charles, VA. Photo courtesy Alex Wilke

For Alex Wilke, a Virginia mom who is also a staff member at The Nature Conservancy, nature isn’t just a profession; it’s a passion that she wants to share with her children. Wilkes hopes that by giving her kids as many opportunities as possible to “grow up wild” and experience the outdoors, she can teach them to be responsible, observant and appreciative stewards of the environment. Learn more about Wilke’s work and how you can engage your children in exploring the outdoors in this interview with nature.org:

nature.org: What do you do for The Nature Conservancy?

shore bird survey

Alex Wilke: I work as a bird conservation specialist at the Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve. Most of my time is spent managing and implementing our projects to protect and manage the nesting shorebirds and waterbirds along the preserve’s 50 miles of barrier island habitat on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

nature.org: Which TNC preserves do your children spend time on?

Alex Wilke: They spend time with us on the barrier islands of the Virginia Coast Reserve, as well as the Brownsville Preserve, which is our office headquarters located on the mainland of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. We take our boat to the islands year round when the weather is nice so we might find ourselves swimming in tidal pools and building sand castles in the summer or bundled up beach combing and looking for winter wildlife such as loons and seals during the colder months. When the wind’s blowing or it’s just too cold to be on the water (or the boat doesn’t start), we will often go hiking on the Brownsville Preserve to enjoy the woods and look for things like box turtles and deer tracks.

nature.org: A new survey reveals parents around the world are concerned children are not spending enough time outdoors. What is your reaction to that?

Alex Wilke: Based on my experiences, I agree. I have quickly seen how distractions like TVs, smartphones, and tablets can monopolize children’s attention and prevent them from getting outside and engaging in creative, active play.

nature.org: Why is it important to you that your children grow up connected to nature?

shore bird survey

Alex Wilke: I truly hope that by giving our two children as many opportunities as possible to experience the outdoors, we can teach them to be responsible, observant, and appreciative stewards of the environment. Additionally, my husband and I get so much joy and entertainment out of our understanding and appreciation of the outdoors and we want our children to experience the same thing by learning as much as they can about the world around them. It’s not unusual to hear a parent exclaim proudly that their toddler just pointed to and correctly identified a ‘bird’ flying by. When we’re out on the barrier islands, that usually goes something like this: “Mommy, that’s a bird and it’s an oystercatcher and it’s looking for food.” So I guess we’re on our way.

nature.org: How does spending time outdoors impact your children?

Alex Wilke: I think spending time outside, even if it’s just in the backyard, simply makes our kids happier and frankly, better behaved. They’re engaged with and aware of what’s going on around them, getting exercise and fresh air, and spending quality time with us (and usually our dogs). At the end of a day outside, we’ve got two tired, happy kids.

Check out this link to the Top Five Must See Migrations in Virginia. Then get out your calendar and schedule some time for your kids to go and “grow up wild!”

Article originally published on The Nature Conservancy website.