Living in Tuscumbia, Alabama, my husband and I fostered children for over three years. During this time, we made sure that the children spent plenty of time outdoors. We have a small hobby farm on top of Hawk Pride Mountain that consist of 11 goats, 9 cows, and a horse. Our cow and goat herds are continually growing each year. Out of all our foster children that came through our home we maintain an ongoing relationship with one of them.
Landen was brought to us at birth, straight from the hospital. His case worker met us at a McDonald’s near the hospital to place him with us. I call him my little Happy Meal. I never went to McDonald’s before and received something so great. He lived with us for the first two years of his life and then he went back to live with his birth mother. His birth mother allowed us to stay in his life, and co-parent with her. He is now four and I can’t imagine loving any child as much as I love him.
We involved Landen in everything outdoors before he was even a year old. He loved riding on the tractor and 4-wheeler and still does to this day. He says he is a cow boy and he practically lives in his cowboy boots. He helps us bottle feed and halter break the new calves. Although with a stunned look on his face he has seen goats give birth, and he knows why calves and kids nurse on their mothers for he has grown up seeing it all his life. He declares “Willy the Bull” as his favorite animal on the farm. Landen probably likes Willy the most because he has horns and he is calm for a bull. What Landen has learned the most on the farm is not to touch the electric fence. It took countless jolts but he finally learned to ask us if it was on before touching it. He also thinks it is funny to plug up the fence while we are inside it. He is a very mischievous country boy.
It is important for all children to be involved in activities that are outdoors, but especially foster children. In some of these children’s worlds, all they know is abandonment, drugs, and violence. Once these children are outdoors they can take advantage of the opportunity to experience their creative side, self-explore, and let their imagination sore. Nature and outdoor play offers sensory stimulation that is critical for proper development. Morals and values is also a learned behavior that can be taught outdoors. All our previous foster children have learned where their food comes from. They learned that steak, and hamburgers come from cows, and pork chops come from pigs. They learn where the eggs they eat everyday come from, and that their chicken nuggets are called chicken nuggets for a reason. With the help of my mother in-law, who is a home economics teacher they also learned some basic cooking and sewing skills. My father in-law grows potatoes every year and the kids loved to dig them up. To them it was like hunting Easter eggs. My husband took Stacee, a six-year-old boy that was in our home for a while, camping. He never had parents spend much time with him because they were involved in drugs most of his life, so camping was like going to the moon for him. They chopped wood, built a fire, and stayed in a rugged tent. He loved helping on the farm but had the worst allergies. He helped my husband bale hay once and the next day his eye was swollen to the size of a golf ball, but he did not care. He would do it again.
It is easy to teach children to love the outdoors, but you must give them the opportunity to truly live it. Climbing trees, camping, getting dirty, and learning where our food comes from should be available to all children. There is nothing better than learning about the natural world, and making memories in it.