Raising a Generalist by Stacy Tornio
Often times, I think we as a society, get too obsessed with becoming specialists. At very young ages, it seems like kids are choosing a single sport to focus on in hopes of becoming the next Olympic athlete or Tiger Woods. Or they’re spending hours of practice on violin, dance or another hobby because it will hopefully lead to a scholarship one day.
Don’t get me wrong—I know this is how many great athletes, gymnasts, musicians, dancers, and more get their starts. But I think there’s a case to be made for raising kids who dabble in multiple things. In short, I think raising a generalist is a good idea—especially when it comes to nature and being outside.
Now I definitely think it’s cool when you find a child who has a special affection and talent for a certain outdoor subject. I’ve come across some pretty astounding kids who can name every bird in North America or who know more interesting facts about bugs than most grown adults. They are no doubt impressive and their interests should be encouraged, but at the same time, we shouldn’t forget to encourage all those other great things in nature.
Camping, gardening, hiking, kayaking, mountain climbing, nature photography, birding—all of these things are important for kids to experience. And even more importantly, you want them to cross-pollinate. For instance, while you’re kayaking as a family, it’s good to notice the birds and butterflies around you. Or while you’re camping, be sure to explore the area to look for toads, salamanders or other wildlife critters.
As a parent myself, I know it can be a bit overwhelming at times. My own kids are 8 and 10 and seem to be in the height of activities—soccer, softball, basketball, Girl Scouts. Sometimes it seems like the family schedule will never slow down or allow time to just be a nature generalist. But then I remind myself of one little thing. It’s something that I tell other parents, teachers and adult all the time. It’s this simple—KIDS KNOW WHAT TO DO.
Kids know how to be kids and just play. They don’t need a planned activity or special event to get to know nature on a deeper level. They just need time and a place—just let ‘em go.
I’m the author of two kids books that embrace this mission, and yet it’s still something I have to remind myself of with my own two kids. In my latest book, We Love Nature, it’s easier than ever to practice what I preach. This book is a journal with 52 activities and prompts to go with each one. For instance, one of the activities in the book is to “Go on a Picnic,” but then it offers space to sketch the picnic site, write about where you went, what you ate, what your favorite activity was and more.
As you can see, going on a picnic is not a big scheduled event or undertaking. It’s pretty simple. Yet, there’s something to be said for embracing this activity with your family and also writing about your experience so you can look back on it for years to come.
One of my favorite memories with my own kids is when we found a little toad while on a trip to the lake, and I handed over my camera and let my kids take photos of each other. They had so much fun talking about how the toad felt and giggling as they took a few pictures before we let it go. We didn’t set out to be herpetologists that day, but we were open to the experience as a nature family.
I hope you’ll check out We Love Nature and that it inspires you and your family to be nature generalists, too. After all, kids know what to do. It’s us as adults that sometimes need to be reminded.
ABOUT STACY: Stacy Tornio is the author of 4 books related to getting kids outside more. Her latest book, WE LOVE NATURE, is an interactive journal from Roost Books, which is meant to be written in, sketched in and taken on adventures. Stacy has two kids of her own who love exploring outdoors. You can get more hands-on ideas from Stacy and her co-author, Ken, at destinationnature.net.