My love for the outdoors began when I was still in diapers. My parents brought me up to our family cottage before I even celebrated my first birthday. Now, twenty-eight years later, I have brought my baby boy, Henry, to this sacred place. To most, our cottage would be unappealing. Our cabin, located just outside Perth, Ontario, is tiny and old. My late grandfather built it in the late 1960’s. The cottage has three bedrooms, but there isn’t any privacy because said bedrooms have no doors. Only the bathroom is insulated, but luckily, for us, it does have a door! Bugs always have a way of finding their way through cracks and windows and even though it sounds like it, I’m not complaining. I have traveled across Canada and even backpacked through Europe, but there is nowhere else I would rather spend my summer than up at the cottage.
When my grandfather built the cottage, he also created a set of rules for our family to follow. No television, no telephone and no motorboats. My siblings and I had to get around the lake in an ancient green canoe and we always envied our cottage neighbours as they passed us by in their shiny speedboat. Luckily for us, those same neighbours would invite us to go tubing or into their cottage on rainy days to watch the 1996 summer Olympics. As a teenager, I begged my parents to install a telephone, but despite my efforts, I had to resort to writing letters to keep in touch with my girlfriends back home. I didn’t always like my grandfather’s cottage rules, but now I believe my appreciation for nature stems from those summers spent up at Pike Lake without the distraction of technology. My summer days were spent swimming in the lake, catching frogs, taking nature walks and reading in the hammock. It has been over fifty years since my grandfather created his set of rules and our family still abides by them. One day, I believe my son will also learn to appreciate them.
You don’t need to own a cottage to introduce children to nature. When I was twelve, a friend of mine invited me to go camping with her family. I had never been camping before, but I was excited for this new adventure. We slept under the stars at Bon Echo Provincial Park, cooked our meals over bonfires and traveled in kayaks to investigate the famous pictographs. The experience opened a new window to the outdoors for me and I’ve been hooked ever since. Camping is an inexpensive way to explore the outdoors and a great way to introduce children to nature. Campsites can be booked for as little as $27.75 a night at any Ontario Parks.
I’m passionate about the outdoors, but my family doesn’t live in the country. In fact, we live right downtown. The good news for us is there is plenty of green space to be explored (for free) in the City of Ottawa. When I was pregnant with Henry, I was told having a December due date wasn’t ideal because once he was born, I would be stuck inside until the snow melted. I was determined to introduce him to the outdoors, so I purchased a high-tech baby snowsuit and took him for daily walks along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. Some people thought I was crazy for taking a newborn out in the cold weather, but Henry was always warm and content. In the spring, I continued to expose him to the outdoors by hiking through Gatineau Park and walking along the trails on the Aviation Parkway. This summer, we’ve also explored the nature trails at Petrie Island in Orleans. The Friends of Petrie Island have set up a great and free summer nature program for children. Donations are appreciated.
My son is only six months old and I can already see his love for the outdoors. He enjoys feeling the breeze on his face and the sand between his little toes. He likes to watch heritage trees in our neighbourhood rustle in the wind and smiles when he sees chipmunks run by. Henry is curious when birds fly overhead and he can nap peacefully on the cottage dock. I can tell Henry, like his mama, feels most happy and alive when in the great outdoors. Today’s world is a busy one and people are constantly bombarded with phone calls, text messages and emails. Follow my grandfather’s rules and give your family a break. Turn off your cell phones, televisions and computers. Go outside with your children and help them recognize the beauty of Mother Nature. Children learn by example and if you take the time to teach them to appreciate their surroundings you will be giving them a gift they will have forever.
Alyssa Delle Palme is a writer, radio announcer and new mother to seven month old, Henry. You can read about her adventures in motherhood on her personal blog “Starring Alyssa as Herself”.