3 Holiday Wishes for Kids

By Jonathan Hoekstra, The Nature Conservancy

This holiday season, I have 3 wishes for kids everywhere: that they can find Wonder, Inspiration and Hope in the world around them. I was lucky to have all three while I was growing up. You can’t get them at any store. You can find them in nature. Here’s how:


When I was a kid, I found Wonder in the open field and woods behind my house. They weren’t particularly large, but still offered boundless opportunities to play, to explore and to have childhood adventures. My brothers and I made forts beneath the boughs of pine trees, swung like Tarzan on vines in the woods, and ran just for the sake of running through the field. These were also places were I was able to discover nature, whether spotting robin nests in the tree tops, looking for monarch butterfly caterpillars on milkweed plants, or following rabbit tracks through the snow in search of a burrow.

Many kids today might not have access to that same kind of open space, but you can still find Wonder in almost any green place. It could be a park, a beach or even a rooftop garden. The key is for kids to have a chance to be outdoors, to exercise both body and mind, and to interact with the nature that is still around them.


You can’t predict when or where you will find Inspiration, but when you do, you don’t forget the moment. For me, it happened in seventh grade science class. My teacher, Mr. Kleis, showed us some pictures of birds that he had taken. One of those birds was a black-and-white warbler; it looked like a zebra bird! Despite all of the time I had spent roaming the field and woods near my house, I had never seen anything like it before. Well that spring, I watched more closely in the woods and found that black-and-white warbler along with many other colorful species that I learned migrated all the way to Michigan from faraway places in the tropics. Today, I think back to that picture and my own subsequent discovery as a defining moment of Inspiration that shaped my life-long love of nature and my eventual career as a conservationist.

Teachers are among the best Inspirers of kids. Other possible sources of Inspiration include camping trips to national and state parks, a visit to a zoo or aquarium, or even a nature show on television. As a child, Jacques Cousteau’s adventures on the Calypso fascinated and inspired me to learn more about the mysterious ocean. Exhibits in modern zoos and aquariums can similarly inspire by giving kids a glimpse into the lives of animals from faraway lands. Even as an adult, I was inspired all over again by the dramatic scenery and abundant wildlife I saw when visiting Yellowstone National Park for the first time. Whatever the time and place, nature offers myriad ways to find Inspiration.


My third wish is that kids can have Hope for the future. When I was growing up, the natural environment was in trouble. The local lake was too polluted to swim in. Bald eagles were endangered. The woods where I used to play were suddenly cleared to make space for new development.

But I had Hope because of new laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. I believed that things could get better, and they did! My local lake is swimmable again. Two bald eagle pairs regularly nest in neighborhood parks near my house ó evidence of their dramatic comeback. And green spaces are considered an essential part of most communities.

Despite these and many other significant environmental accomplishments, nature is still in trouble today. Today’s kids need to worry about climate change, water shortages, and habitat loss that threaten their future quality of life as well as that of the world’s plants and animals. Where will they find Hope? They will find it in your and my commitments to protecting nature now and into the future through the actions we take and the values we espouse.

This holiday season, please support conservation so that kids everywhere and of all ages can connect with nature and celebrate the gifts of Wonder, Inspiration and Hope.

The author’s brothers (above) on a typical day in the “jungle” behind their childhood home. Now all grown up, Jonathan Hoekstra is a senior scientist with The Nature Conservancy. He provides leadership on diverse issues including restoration of the Gulf of Mexico, climate change, ecosystem services, energy and agriculture. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biological Sciences from Stanford University and a Ph.D in Zoology from the University of Washington.

Opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

(Top image: A young boy leaps across rocks during a Nature Conservancy expedition through a remote Canadian wilderness. Source: Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures.)


Anne F.
Anne F6 years ago

I'm encouraged by the development of school gardening and hope that we remember that children love to explore in woodsy places and brushy gullies (not just manicured parks).

Jacquie J.
Jacquie J6 years ago

That life will be kind to them

Nancy Gregg
Nancy G6 years ago

Great thoughts!

Gloria Morotti
Gloria Morotti6 years ago

I grew up before development took over. My favorite toys were rocks, dirt, trees, the meadows, etc.

Rose Becke6 years ago

thanks for this post

Anne G.
Anne G6 years ago

Thanks, I also had woods and streams to play and explore in as a kid, but also the city to broaden my horizons. Also, very important.

Bob P.

thanks for sharing

Dianne M.
Dianne Mccauley6 years ago

Wonderful wishes for sure. I too grew up on 200 acres of forest, meadow, pond, and farmland, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Now as an adult I'm spoiled and long only to be able to enjoy that freedom, wonder, and magic that I knew as a child. I'm constantly reminded of the Native American proverb "We do not own the earth, we only borrow it from our children." I wish our future generations the passion, insight, perserverance, and respect to save the earth and keep it beatiful for the next generation to come. I just hope it's not too late to reverse the damage we have done. I truly believe we are not complete if we are not connected to nature in some way.

Anne Brabson
Anne B6 years ago

These ARE important, wonderful wishes for kids! I,also, was fortunate to have all 3 in my childhood, thanks to my family, my teachers and growing up in a rural setting where nature was always close by...