By Julie Thibodeaux 
Laura Eckroat wants to help kids get outside.

The former teacher said today’s youth enjoy the benefits of advanced technology with their MP3 players, laptops and the Internet, but many are missing the fun that can found outside their door.   “They miss a lot by staying inside,” she said. “There’s so much the world outside has to offer them.”

To inspire kids to explore nature, she wrote a children’s book and will be sharing its lessons at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge Aug. 14 at 1 p.m.

Her self-published book called A Simpler Time is about a little girl who has a school assignment to keep a journal about her summer vacation. Envious of her classmates’ exotic travel plans, she worries that she has nothing to write about. However, her mother seizes the opportunity and takes her out to explore a different aspect of nature each day. They look for pictures in clouds, hunt for four-leafed clovers and catch fireflies.
Eckroat said she wrote the book based on her own experience with her seven-year-old daughter over a decade ago.  “She liked to stay in and watch TV all the time,” she said.  The two ended up having a grand time going for walks in the woods near their home in Georgia, where they lived.  ( Photos above Laura Eckroat)

Like she did with her own daughter, at the Fort Worth Nature Center workshop, Eckroat will lead participants on a short hike where they will collect leaves and other items and make notes of what they observe.

Then they will make journals of their observations, pasting in items they picked up and pictures of things they saw.  She invites her classes to use the Internet for further research.

Anne Hamman of the Fort Worth Nature Center said an integral part of the Nature Center’s mission is to develop children’s relationship with nature. However, she is seeing more kids so engrossed with technology and TV, they don’t know how to explore the outdoors.  She said, among visitors, she can spot the children whose parents have introduced them to the natural world and those who have not.

“When they come in, the kids who’ve been exposed to nature will get excited when they see the display cases and spend time poring over them,” she said. “The ones who haven’t will breeze through and go straight to the gift shop.”  According to Eckroat, now a child care coordinator at the YMCA in Fort Worth, the 3,600-acre city owned Nature Center offers an ideal place to get an introduction to the wonders of the outdoors. It features a plethora of wildlife, including a buffalo herd, and a variety of terrain.  (Photo: Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge)

Eckroat, a frequent visitor, said her favorite spot is the marsh, where you can listen to the bullfrogs, watch the waterfowl and spy a dragonfly. A simple discovery but one that for some has to be taught .“It’s very peaceful,” she said. “I think that that’s what people are missing in their lives is just peace and quiet.”
(Photo: Fort Worth Nature Center)



Julie Thibodeaux is a former writer and editor for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Contact her at