Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Meet Bethe Almeras

Do you get enough play in the great outdoors in your life? Bethe Almeras makes it her top priority to encourage kids and grown ups alike get out outside and enjoy this world that we're all trying to make a little greener. Her newest venture, The Grass Stain Guru, is all about just that. I've been diligently reading this new blog that is timely, educational and inspirational. Bethe kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us.

What got you involved in going green, or perhaps in your case, being outside in the green?

Well, I grew up an outdoors kid. It was just what you did after school – go outside and play -- come home for dinner. There was never any question about what to do. Have fun – go play! It never occurred to me not to do that, and I was never bored.

I was lucky enough to live in a subdivision with large yards and a wooded area with a creek at the end of the street. Rest assured, if you were looking for me, I was going to be found in those woods -- often knee deep in the creek -- building little dams, catching crayfish, sailing boats made of leaves and twigs, or prospecting for gold.

I would build forts and play shipwreck or detective. I loved to climb trees, look for signs of wildlife, or just hang out with my friends and talk. As I got older, I would pack a lunch and just find a quiet spot to read – a flat rock by the creek or propped up against a tree. It was a good place to think and to dream.

It wasn’t a huge area, but to me it was everything. Whether I was on my own, or with a group of friends, that little wooded area was simply magic. My imagination came alive there -- in many ways, I think that little patch of woods is where it was born. As an adult who relies on her creativity daily, I am ever thankful to those woods. To my creek.

Sadly, like so many places from childhood, that little patch of woods is gone. Development. “Progress.” I am sad for the kids who live in the neighborhood now – they have no idea what they are missing.

I truly believe that time spent outdoors is necessary for every human being, and is an essential part of a healthy, happy childhood.

You are a self-professed member of the Children and Nature Movement. Why is that so important to you?

I have worked for many years connecting people with nature and have always found it to be a powerful way to reach and teach everyone. I guess like many others, I was part of the movement before it had a name or a unified theme.

When Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods came out, it mobilized and unified professionals in a variety of fields. The book really validated what many people where seeing – children are not going outside like they once were, and the consequences of that are large and long-lasting. It got us moving -- trying to make a more concerted effort to raise awareness and inspire societal change. We are raising what is essentially the first generation of kids to grow up disconnected from nature. Due to health issues, most of which can be related to today’s plugged-in, sedentary lifestyles, we are also raising the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents

Connecting people with nature -- it’s a huge issue, and far more serious that its name suggests. That said, it is also a very joyous thing and an exciting movement to be a part of. Connecting children (and adults!) with nature. Unstructured play. Getting outside more ourselves. These are all very good things. How amazing is it that so many people can benefit from something as simple, fun, and pleasant as getting outside more often? Of getting to know and love the natural world in ways that have meaning to each of us?

On twitter, everyone knows you as the #playoutdoors lady. You encourage us all to get outside every day and play. What's your favorite way to play outdoors?

OK, how much do I LOVE that I am known as the #playoutdoors lady?! That brings me joy. You know, I really do feel like an evangelist for play – it is my sworn duty to get us all out there, kids and adults alike, engaged in play and improving the quality of our lives. I truly hope that I encourage people to get outside and play EVERY day. Your physical, mental and emotional health will be greatly improved if you do. Listen to the #playoutdoors lady –she won’t steer you wrong!

My favorite way to play outdoors now as a grown-up? You know, I like to set out with no prescriptive goal for my play time – it’s a mood-based thing. Some days, I love to walk and take pictures, other days I like to sit on a park bench feeding the squirrels and watching the world go by. I love to discover a “new to me” park or trail, or play Frisbee, and there is NOTHING better than a day spent on the water. It doesn’t matter, as long as I am unplugged and outside, something good is coming my way.

Tell us about your newest project, The Grass Stain Guru blog. What do you hope people will get out of it?

I recently started The Grass Stain Guru because I am so passionate about the issues of unstructured play, connecting people with nature, and education reform. For me, all those areas boil down into one larger issue: Restoring childhood, and saving ourselves in the process.

We can talk about the issue in pieces and parts, as many groups do, but in reality, all of those pieces add up to one thing – happy children living in a happier, healthier society. That is something we should all care about, regardless if you are a parent, educator, a caregiver or none of those things. As a citizen, this should matter to you. It’s your society. It’s your responsibility, too.

What is passing for childhood today is just not good enough. We should want better for our children and ourselves. We should want better for this country. More balance and creativity. Better health and education. More opportunities for joy. Real connections with our families, friends, and communities.

I have three main goals for readers of The Grass Stain Guru:
  1. Awareness
  2. Spreading the word on play & time outdoors
  3. Behavior change/taking action
  • Recognize the emotional, developmental, academic, social, and physical benefits of unstructured play (for children, but ALSO adults)!
  • Take a HONEST look at their lives/lives of their families in terms of unstructured play time, time spent outdoors, and screen-time.
  • See the environment as something more than a thing that needs saving, but as a beautiful thing to know, love and interact with. This is really important for children, who are often asked to “save the planet” before they even get the chance to know and love it.
Spreading the Word:
  • Become a part of TGSG community – share your comments and questions and join the Play Outdoors Twitter group.
  • Share your stories and passions about the outdoors with children.
  • Start conversations with other adults about the topics and issues that we discuss.
  • Talk to your children’s teachers, the PTA, principal, etc. about recess and reducing homework load or setting a reasonable homework policy.
  • Be an active member of the voting public. Stay informed and use you voice on issues like education reform, development, and conservation issues. Stay informed.
Behavior Change:
  • Decrease the number of structured activities that kids are involved with so they have time just to be kids.
  • Decrease screen-time for selves and family – unplug more!
  • Increase time spent outdoors interacting with the natural world.
  • Focus less on purchasing toys and video games for kids and spend more time with them instead.
  • Have FUN, be playful and MODEL these behaviors for the children in your world. Model balance and experiencing joy.
  • Explore your communities and find more ways to connect with people and create a culture that supports outdoor play and an increased sense of security in our communities.

And most importantly, I hope that each reader laughs and plays as if their life depends upon it, because in reality, it does.

What's your favorite quote?

Only one?! Well, since I have never been a paint-by-numbers kind of girl, I am giving two:

“Life is too important to be taken seriously!”- Oscar Wilde
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” - Albert Einstein

Where can we find you on the web?

Play Outdoors Twitter Group:

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balmeras said...

Well, how tickled am I that you took the time to interview me, Robin?! Thank you so much for the opportunity and for supporting my blog and the work I am doing. You ROCK!

Cheers- Bethe, aka The Grass Stain Guru

Adam Shake said...


Thanks for interviewing Bethe. I've been following her exploits for a while and have even had the honor of meeting her in person. She is a great lady who is doing great things on a number of fronts.

Shes an environmental and outdoor advocate and she has a love for children and childhood education that is unmatched.

Great interview of a great lady.

Libby Schleichert said...

My friend, Bethe, rocks! I love the interview, and her way with words is so inspiring. Can I go out and play now?

Robin Shreeves said...

I'm so glad Bethe agreed to do the interview. She's preachin' some important stuff we all need to hear right now - especially someone like me with 6 and 9 year old boys.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful interview! Bethe has such an important message for all of us. I have to go now and #playoutdoors with my girls!


Anonymous said...

Great interview! I call Bethe my online friend, but I never knew what motivated and inspired her until now.