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The Future of Child’s Play


John Hoskins (left) at age 7 with his brother Steve (right) on the Current River near Van Buren. His childhood enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits has been a foundation for his career in conservation. When not working as director, he enjoys fishing, hunting, biking and hiking with his family and friends.

I’m the director of the Department of Conservation because I was a kid who loved the outdoors. From an early age, life with my brothers and sister on a small Ozarks farm left us free to explore the world.

Each spring, the part of Carter Creek that ran through our property would flash into a river and chew out scour holes that served as summer’s swimming holes. I loved to fish and was proud when I could hunt squirrels and rabbits alone. My brother Steve and I spent memorable nights with a flashlight hunting frogs on farm ponds, and we spent several others with our neighbor, Harold, following his blue tick hounds trying to tree raccoons in the dead of winter. While in sixth grade, I remember an assignment to make a leaf collection. Dad and I searched the entire farm and found enough leaves for an “A,” plus some extra credit. That was also the year I eagerly read back-to-back the adventures of both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

This childhood foundation grew into adult pursuits of deer, small game and turkey hunting and, my personal favorite today—float stream fishing. My youth was also the starting point for an education in natural science and a career in conservation.

My experience is common for anyone my age reared on a farm in rural Missouri. However, even farm kids today have more competing for their time than I did then.

There is real concern that the next generation will not have the outdoor experiences enjoyed by previous generations. The impact of this is not clear, but some believe that childhood experiences in nature frame positive social values and consciousness resulting in a higher quality of life.

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv links the absence of nature to disturbing trends among our children—the rise in obesity, attention disorders and depression. Louv advocates becoming actively involved in making “nature play” an integral part of kids’ lives. “We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories,” writes Louv. “In my children’s memories, the adventures we have had together in nature will always exist.”

My outdoor memories are priceless, so I take personal responsibility for making new ones with my grandchildren. Their backyards are places to begin learning about trees, other plants, insects and birds, and perhaps to learn archery skills or casting with a rod and reel. My first goal is selfish—some quality time with the grandkids. The second is to instill an appreciation of nature that will reward these children for the rest of their lives. I don’t yet have a single family memory that began, “One day while we were watching television....”

Think about the opportunities to share nature with those in your life. Find some leaves, go to a pond, take a hunter education class, or pass down your favorite outdoor author. You will dramatically increase the number of future adults who value Missouri’s resources and take positive actions to protect them.

John Hoskins, director

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