The lives of our kids are so much different than ours were. Not just slightly different either, hugely different. I was telling my kids stories about it the other day, as I often do. One day they’ll get tired of hearing “When I was a kid …”, but they haven’t yet. Anyway, I was telling my kids about how we used to skate on the Cow Pond when we were kids. I didn’t realize how city-fied they are until they said “Why would you skate on … a pond?”. Yeah, I’ll have to work on that.
I told them the story of when I fell through the ice at the Cow Pond. The water was only waist-deep so it wasn’t a terribly traumatic event. I just climbed back up with the help of my friends, all of us giggling the entire time, and trudged home sopping wet. I was offered a skidoo lift back home from our much older, very good looking neighbour, but being the
independent self-conscious preteen that I was, I declined.
And I’ve told them about climbing trees and building forts (like the semi-subterranean fort my brother built) and playing hide-and-seek in the woods, but they really won’t get to experience that themselves. Sure, Grampa built a tree fort at his place for them to play in and they love the tree swing there, but it’s not the same. Gone are the days when kids would spend hours alone in the forest, playing, scheming, strategizing, planning, building, and creating. When the kids are in the fort at Grampa’s, one of us adults is always glancing out the window to make sure the kids are still okay.
So that’s why I was interested to read Last Child In The Woods. I read it a couple of years ago while doing home daycare, and it really opened my eyes to the opportunities we’re keeping from our kids. I had a plastic jungle in my backyard for the daycare kiddos. It looked like Little Tikes threw up, and while the kids enjoyed playing in all of the playhouses, climbers and slides, I couldn’t help but feel they were missing the point of “outdoor time”.
We always spent a lot of time walking through the fields out back, watching tadpoles and Red-Winged Blackbirds, and listening to cicadas and crickets, but I wanted to bring that experience closer to home, especially when the developers invaded our fields out back.
The result was our natural playscape experiment, and the kids seemed to really enjoy it. They went home a lot messier, that’s for sure. But in the meantime they had exercised their imaginations and their creativity, all five senses had been challenged, and they had experimented with physics and biology.
Last Child In The Woods is a brilliant argument for bringing nature back into the forefront as an essential ingredient in the development of all children. I always noticed a huge difference in the behaviour of the kiddos while we were outside, and the author, Richard Louv confirms this in his experience too, in the chapter Nature-Deficit Disorder and the Restorative Environment. It’s an interesting connection – that of certain childhood disorders being treated with more exposure to nature. And it’s not just by burning off energy by running through fields or climbing trees. Even laying in the tall grass or watching tiny insects outside in their natural environment can have the same affect on hyperactivity or attention issues, according to Louv.
I found this myself when I took my own kids to the beach last week. They may have been fully outfitted in winter gear, but their bickering and boredom was quenched the second they got out of the van and saw those frozen waves stretching up and down the beach. They ran and jumped off of the waves, but they also sat and peered into smooth crystal balls of frozen water, strained to see the water below the cracks in the ice, and climbed snow formations like they were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I was the one who had to drag them home with promises of hot chocolate when I couldn’t feel my legs any longer. That foray into nature in the dead of winter gave them exactly what they were unconsciously craving and what they really needed that day.
If you have kids, give this book a read. Even in our busy, non-stop, whirlwind lives, we need to carve out some time for our kids to experience nature in it’s purest sense. Running up and down a soccer field is great, but it doesn’t count. Kids need to have the experience of free exploration, muddy hands and dirty feet. Last Child In The Woods is a great place to start!
PS – Here’s a great online resource for when you’re stuck inside because of bad weather: the Nature Sounds website allows you to choose and mix various nature sounds. Playing this while my daycare kiddos were stuck inside had an amazing impact on their indoor play habits! They were much calmer, didn’t get as stir crazy and were much more relaxed than if I had played kids music 😉