We all remember what it was like to view the world with a childlike innocence, strolling through the woods on a crisp autumn morning to the sounds of rustling in the bushes, birds chirping overhead or the excited giggles of our friends.
For Abbott's Mill Nature Center Site Manager Matthew Babbitt, it's how he spends many of his days at the more than 500 acre site he and the Delaware Nature Society oversee in southern Delaware.
If we teach children while they're young, the group maintains, they'll grow up with a healthy respect for the environment and all of the animals, plants and natural elements than encompass it.
"The biggest joy for me at my job is seeing children make that personal connection with nature," admits Babbitt, who's originally from the Richmond, Virginia area. "I just love seeing the passion that people in our communities have for our natural world."
While the actual grist mill on the property is the "star of the show" on many days, providing the perfect backdrop for photos during visits to the property, there are actually more than 500 acres near Milford that are overseen and protected by the Delaware Nature Society.
Wildlife that call the habitat home include deer, foxes, muskrats, beavers, turkeys, hawks, eagles and a wild variety of fish who swim in the many on-site streams.
Abbott's Mill Nature Center is overseen and managed by the Delaware Nature Society, a statewide nonprofit, but many of the reserves on the property have been donated by local families. The majority of the land is owned by DNREC's Division of Fish and Wildlife and the on-site buildings are owned by the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.
Students from throughout Delaware, as well as parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania, visit Abbott's Mill regularly to learn about the property and to take part in different types of programs during the course of the school year.
There are also family-related activities during most of the year, including scavenger hunts, tours of the actual mill, hayrides and much more.
"We are very much trying to position ourselves as a nature-based community center, with a lot more than just the mill and hiking trails to enjoy," says Babbitt. "We want students to have a place where they can come to learn and the community to have a place to enjoy as well."
Hundreds of school-age children visit Abbott's Mill every year, including students from pre-kindergarten through the fifth grade in the Milford School District.
It's impossible to name and/or describe all of the programs that are offered on-site, but we'll tell you briefly about one that honors and respects the original inhabitants of the local area.
Titled "Native Americans of Delmarva," this program teaches third grade students about the Leni Lenape/Nanticoke tribes via a loop trail that has several different teaching stations.
Topics include how Native Americans used natural resources in their daily lives, as well as teaching students about jobs, games, living conditions, bartering and much more.
To learn more about the diverse programs and educational opportunities offered at Abbott's Mill Nature Center, visit them online at www.delnature.org/AbbottsMill or call (302) 239-2334.