By Tom Brown III:


Something I think we can all agree on is the need to educate our children about the natural world, their place in it and how to respect and care for it. They will one day be adults, and will shape the policies that affect how the human race interacts with the natural world. 

We, as a species are on a precipice. In the last few hundred years we have taken advantage of the environment by continually taking whatever we need to keep the machine running. Forests are laid bare. Rivers, lakes and oceans are over-fished and polluted. All in the name of progress. I live in the Columbia river watershed, which historically had some of the largest steelhead runs in the world, not to mention many salmon species, as well as sturgeon. These days they say there are less than 1 percent of the historical runs of these species. 

So much has been decimated in a short period of time. We dam rivers to generate electricity, and siphon water to irrigate fields. Corporate interests exploit nature for short-term gain, not worrying about how decisions made today will affect future generations. My father’s teacher said it best, “We are a society of people that kills our grandchildren to feed our children.” 

I’m sure many of you reading this are aware of these issues, and trying to figure out a solution can be daunting to say the least. In the short term there is only so much we can accomplish. Our best hope lies in educating future generations so they don’t continue the vicious cycle. However, doing this can be difficult. Our children spend an increasing amount of time in the digital world. They do not play outside as much as they once did. If we don’t try to do something now, by the time they grow up they will be even further cut off from nature than previous generations, and that will make them much more likely to continue the trend of destroying nature to satiate our need for convenience. 

The problem we nature educators face is overcoming the allure of the digital world, and how to go about plugging kids back in to the natural world. This is more difficult today than it was just a few short years ago. How do you make learning about nature as fun as video games and social media? How do we help create a future generation of stewards and conservationists? 

As many of you know, I work at Trackers Earth, an organization dedicated to connecting children and adults to the natural world. In an average year, if you add up all the collective hours we have children in nature it totals around 156 years! Like many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the way we operate. Normally we would be running in-person classes and programs seven days a week, but like most states, Oregon has been under a stay-at-home order for a few weeks now. 

Tony and Molly Deis, the founders of Trackers and dear friends of mine, were faced with the hard choice that many business owners are dealing with. Looking to keep their 30-plus full-time instructors teaching, they made the decision to “re-fit the ship” and evolve from being an outdoors school to an online one. In just a few short weeks and a Herculean effort by the Trackers Earth team, we have made it happen. Starting this week we are offering a vast array of online, interactive webinars for kids of all ages! I’m sure many of you reading this are at home with children, possibly looking for activities to keep them busy while also learning something. The Trackers online kids program subjects include:

  • Backyard Classroom: Academics where kids use nature in their backyard as a classroom lab.
  • Rangers Adventure: Outdoor skills for kids such as map and compass, wilderness survival, tracking and more.
  • Wilders Home: Almost an old school home economics course, teaching cooking, gardening, sewing and much more to every kid.
  • Mariners Starship: Kids camps in navigation, fishing and even art connected to fishing in the outdoors.
  • Earth Ninja: Morning and afternoon movement and martial arts to help keep kids physically fit during this time.

There are other highly imaginative programs such as online camps and courses on adventure travel and expedition planning, photography, dinosaurs and, yes, even a role-playing camp with elves, wizards and dragons.

I will also be hosting several adult online webinars very soon on wilderness survival, wild edible plants, nature observation and awareness. We will regularly add new programs for both children and adults, so keep checking back! I hope you are all well and using this time to get closer to loved ones and reconnect with old friends. Try to learn something new every day! Trackers Earth online can be accessed at: www.trackerspdx.com/online.