One of the best things about living in New Mexico is the beautiful scenery and the wide open spaces to explore. It truly is the Land of Enchantment! I want my children to grow up appreciating the exquisiteness of nature, while feeling a sense of belonging and responsibility for the environment.
These desires are exactly what environmental stewardship is all about. Manzano Day School, an independent school in Albuquerque for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, weaves stewardship throughout their curriculum through their environmental education facility, Fenton Ranch. Fenton Ranch, a seven-acre property in the Jemez Mountains, was donated to Manzano Day School in 1974. Each year beginning in pre-K, every student at Manzano Day School visits the ranch for day trips. Students in first grade or higher also have the opportunity for overnight visits.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Stephanie Kichler, the director at Fenton Ranch, to discuss why getting children outdoors is beneficial for their development as well as the future of the environment.
As you can imagine, children learn a lot about ecology, biology, earth science, and physics in nature. However, Stephanie also mentioned that children can learn a lot of “soft skills” while outside as well. Some of these include taking appropriate risks, leadership, responsibility, teamwork, and the understanding that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
After speaking with Stephanie, I learned that the focus of Fenton Ranch is to turn children into environmental stewards. Her philosophy is that if children have the opportunity to get out into nature, they will develop a stronger connection to the environment. Then in the future, they will think about how their actions affect the larger world and make decisions that protect these natural spaces.
Stephanie encourages parents to get kids outside as often as possible.
Yes, visiting a beautiful forested area is great, but a walk around the block can be just as transformational for a child. Perhaps they see a butterfly or notice a dandelion growing in a sidewalk crack. Getting outside and experiencing nature is all about the connection you can have as a family with each other as well as the larger world.
There are two other tips for parents when exploring nature with their children. The first is to “Leave No Trace.” “Leave No Trace” is a framework of seven principles about how to interact with nature. They have created resources for parents that are easy to implement and can help you feel more confident taking your children into nature.
The second recommendation from Stephanie is to learn the story of the land you are exploring. New Mexico is home to a rich cultural history. One resource is Native Land Digital, where you can type in an address and see the corresponding map of Indigenous lands.
To hear more from my talk with Stephanie Kichler, check out the video below.