Durango Nature Studies


Resolve to be curious about the natural world in 2019

We’re almost to mid-January. How are those New Year’s resolutions going?

I’m still vacillating over whether or not to actually make any resolutions. I have a number of goals for 2019, but I view resolutions and goals differently. Goals set some specific (and measurable) end. With a resolution, we simply resolve to do something. Resolutions seem much easier.

If you have read any of my previous columns, you know I’m an advocate of outside play. I planned to write this column on the myriad reasons parents should resolve to have children play as much as possible outdoors. Based on the activity I’ve seen at Buckley Park, Purgatory and just walking around town these past two weeks, however, I am patently reminded that Colorado kids know how to play quite well, especially when it starts snowing.

Of course, if you want a few reminders as to why unstructured outdoor play is important for children, some of the items at the top of my list include:

  • Getting holistic exercise: Not only does outdoor play provide physical exercise, it also enlivens senses and rejuvenates organs (brain, lungs, etc.). It benefits our mental well-being, too.
  • Igniting executive function: Outdoor play has a critical role in developing troubleshooting, planning, negotiating and prioritizing skills. It ignites creativity. We see this time and again at our summer camps. For example, during eco-town weeks, we see countless creative and fun ideas for viable communities emerge from the campers.
  • Catalyzing socialization: Unstructured play brings children together who may be different genders, cultures and ages. They get along easily most of the time, and when they don’t, they figure out how to work through conflicts. Many of us adults could use a reminder on this lesson.
  • Appreciating nature: Unstructured outdoor play allows you to take in your surroundings. For example, an improvisational game of hide and seek with friends will inevitably have participants hiding behind trees and bushes, and they will connect with these plants using at least one sense (and likely more). It is instinctual to be aware of such things, but unless we actively spend time immersing ourselves in nature, it doesn’t necessarily happen.

That last point brings me back to resolutions for the new year. Instead of asking you adults to get children outside more, I’m turning tables on that request. Instead, I encourage you adults to take a page from kids around you. Let your curiosity and wonder run amok in 2019 and connect with the outside world. There are endless opportunities to do so.

During Durango Nature Studies’ monthly full-moon hikes, our naturalists encourage participants to consciously connect to their senses. Participants may be asked to smell trees and shrubs or to navigate an area blindfolded, relying on their listening skills only. Some participants may feel a bit self-conscious sniffing a tree, but they eventually embrace the activities and leave more aware of the world around them.

I am usually conscious of my natural surroundings, but I admit that I, too, can get wrapped up in my goals and tasks and neglect taking in the wonders of the world around me. So, it looks like I’m making a resolution: I hereby resolve to slow down and let my curiosity for the natural world have more space in my life. I resolve to take time to smell the flora, watch the fauna (from safe distances for all) and immerse myself in learning more about our world. Join me.

To help get us started, plan to join our first full-moon hike of 2019 at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 18. It’s extra-special this month. Durango Nature Studies is teaming up with Durango Nordic for their Full Moon Howler at the Nordic Center. DNS naturalist Mike Bienkowski will ignite your curiosity about how our plant and animal neighbors endure cold, snowy winters. Snowshoes will be available for a small fee.

For more information, visit durangonordic.org/full-moon-howler.

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