In an ideal world, all children would have a forest in which they can explore and play. More than books or lectures, a forest gives flight to imagination and gives kids an example of our natural world.

More than books or lectures, a forest gives flight to imagination and gives kids an example of our natural world.

Trees carpet the hillside that climbs behind our home and extend along the river adjacent to the property. Oak trees tower over the surrounding maples, birches, and poplars. Gradually they transition to rugged hemlocks and the occasional white pine as the hillside drops to the local river branch.

I walk our dog in the forest just about every morning, either carefully along the hillside, or straight up to the local bike path. It’s quietly calm most of the time, and intensely beautiful when the light comes through the trees just right.

I grew up in a forest: my family built a home on 26 acres of a wooded hillside at the edge of the Green Mountains of Vermont. Growing up in a rural location meant that seeing friends was more complicated than jumping on a bike and riding over, so we made due.

The summer months meant hours of exploration deep in the forest, making our own trails (complete with signs), forts, hideaways and make-believe villages. Even today, a decade and a half after I left home, walking in a forest brings a sense of calm and balance to my mind.

My son and I walk up the steep hillside and into the woods with our dog, and the adventure begins.

A forest is a brilliant place when you’re two. My son and I walk up the steep hillside and into the woods with our dog, and the adventure begins. There are sticks to find on the forest floor, but also sounds of insects, acorns that tumble through the branches and squirrels that chitter away from above as we stomp around. Every time we take a walk, I get the question: “What’s that?”

Kid playing in forestForests are complicated ecosystems, teeming with life on every level.

Our education system reinforces and highlights forest environments from elementary to high school here in Vermont, with plenty of examples for study a short distance away from the classroom. But living and playing and breathing in the middle of a forest gets you attuned to how it lives and works. You become familiar with what lives and grows there.

Aside from everyday adventures, growing up close to nature provides grownups and kids with a connection to the living world itself: it is a tangible example of how the natural world works. The forest becomes something to value because it shows that home is more than just four walls and a roof; that there are more than roads and parking lots and human-created objects.

Introducing my son to the forest is more than recreational: it’s an educational introduction to the world that he will eventually inherit from my generation. I hope that he will develop the same curiosity and love for the trees that I keep with me to this day: it’s something to be treasured.