Boys and Sticks

My wife and I are both biologists.  She’s a high school biology teacher and I’m a prairie ecologist.  You won’t be surprised that we think it’s important for our kids to get outside and explore nature.  However, we don’t often take the kids out with any particular agenda or curriculum in mind.  We usually just take them out.

This last weekend, we decided to spend our Sunday afternoon enjoying the pleasant weather preceding what we’re being told might be the blizzard of the century. (C’mon man, it’s just snow and wind!  Having said that, if I don’t make it through this storm alive, this will be an ironic last blog post.)  Anyway, we took Atticus (age 10) and Calvin (7) out to our family prairie for several hours.  Once there, we pretty much let the boys do what they wanted, with the exception that we kept them off the softening ice on the wetland/pond.

Boys with sticks. Helzer family prairie, Nebraska. Atticus (left) and Calvin Miller - stepsons of the photographer.

Atticus and Calvin displaying sticks they found at the prairie.

I didn’t watch the boys closely the whole time, but as far as I could tell, they spent about 92% of the time they were at the prairie whacking sticks against dead trees.  I’m not kidding.  Sure, they poked around the prairie and wetland a little, saw some animal tracks, found some bones, practiced getting through barbed wire fences, and played with the dogs a little.  But the majority of their experience, and what they’ll probably remember most from the day, was stick whacking.

And that’s just fine with me.  They came away from the afternoon with a positive impression of spending time in nature, and they’re excited to go back.  That’s just perfect.

Boys with sticks. Helzer family prairie, Nebraska. Atticus (left) and Calvin Miller - stepsons of the photographer.

Climbing on a dead tree.  With sticks.

Boy with sticks. Helzer family prairie, Nebraska. Calvin Miller (Photographer's stepson)

Calvin and his stick.  (Yes, I was having fun with the sun.)

Boy with sticks. Helzer family prairie, Nebraska. Calvin Miller (Photographer's stepson)

Calvin again.  And the sun.  Again.

Outing at the Helzer family prairie, Nebraska. Kim Helzer with Atticus (left) and Calvin Miller - stepsons of the photographer.

Heading home.  Tired and happy.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

12 thoughts on “Boys and Sticks

  1. My boys were just that age when they were whaling away at a log with sticks at our hunting camp–they were making a small divot bigger with all their might. I have pictures to prove it. How fun to see your boys doing the same thing. This old mom is smiling from ear to ear.

  2. I burned a pile of cedar boughs. Nice day for a bonfire…my kids might have liked that in younger days, but now one is off to college and the other likes hanging out with friends now more than parents. Enjoy these years while you can!

  3. Please take some pictures of the blizzard after it is over. They often create huge drifts and other unique photo opportunities.

  4. When we were kids we used to pretend to be giants by grabbing onto small dead pine saplings and haul onto them til we uprooted them.

  5. as someone with older kids, yes to everything you wrote. looking back now, my kids will tell you that free time outdoors is what they remember strongly (not because of isolated occurences, but because of frequency and duration).

  6. I was a weird little boy who didn’t really care for whacking stuff with sticks – Too busy looking at bugs in the grass. But yeah, if it means having a pleasant experience in the great outdoors, go for it!

  7. That was me 30 years ago and my son and daughter today. The outdoors and free time are a recipe for healthy kids, mentally and physically.


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