I wanted to read this book because I hoped it would challenge my mindset about the dangers of being outside. I thought of all the reasons I don’t want my kid(s) to go off and play outside. The book cites reasons like video games and TV, but since Moses is younger, I had a few others. For instance, sunburn or frostbite, strangers, traffic, injuries, neighbor dogs, mosquitoes, etc. I guess the book did that and more! It also brought up some other things I had begun to worry about lately…
In a chapter titled “The Best of Intentions”, the author Richard Louv points out that natural, free play is not valued in our culture. Parents are always scheduling their kids in soccer, gymnastics, Scouts, piano lessons and so on. Some things require a fair amount of travel time getting to games, concerts, and activities too. Add homework and chores into the mix and there just isn’t time for free play! The elementary students Louv interviewed didn’t consider soccer or piano ‘play’ even though many parents do. It’s been my experience that life only gets busier the older you get, so it was pretty sad to read what these kids were saying. If you’re a parent and your kid is all these activities, please remember to let them loose outside for natural play! I hope to do that for my kid(s), too. The chapter continues talking about teenagers and the pressure they feel when it comes to time management. Many students at this age are in college prep classes, working a job, volunteering and playing sports. They don’t think they can tell their parents or anyone when they are overwhelmed and struggling with managing time on their own. Maybe by letting students of all ages control some of their own time, we can help them learn self-discipline. Beyond that, if we offer them a chance for natural free play, maybe we can foster creativity and a sense of wonder about the world around us.
Overall, Louv recommends a nature-child reunion. He doesn’t label this an easy task, of course. The book talks about how great strides have been taken to set aside land in our state parks. That’s certainly nice to see, but many forested areas and waterways are protected and hunting and fishing practices are heavily regulated. I thought about this a lot while we were camping this week. We’re in this beautiful park, but I just couldn’t let Moses go exploring. We had to stay on the marked path. He couldn’t drag around a bunch of logs and sticks to build a fort or tree house. He couldn’t pick flowers and plants to take back to our camper and identify. He couldn’t go crashing off into the woods to chase a deer. It was like we were in an outdoor museum of sorts, look and don’t touch. Here is nature, now get back and watch from a distance. This disconnect worries Louv and it worries me too. Moses loves playing in the dirt, looking for animals and exploring, so I am glad he is able to do this at home. Louv wishes for more areas that are set aside for the free play of children. Nature preserves for adults, natural play areas for kids. Wouldn’t that be the best of both worlds?
I tried to remember if I had any of these natural free play experiences the author was talking about…I only came up w/2 things, both of which fall under the broad umbrella of camping. The first was swimming in lakes around the state. I remember seeing fish and plants, snails and frogs. I remember touching stuff and watching the way it responded to whatever we did to it. The only other thing I remember was digging a hole in the bike path behind our tents. We tried to dig this huge hole and cover it w/sticks or grass like they do in the movies to catch wild animals. I guess the bike path was not the best place to do that. Of course we got yelled at and our intentions were assumed to be malicious toward the bicyclists. Anyway, there were probably other nature experiences in my life, but I just remember these easily. If you asked my parents about my time spent outside as a kid, they would laugh! I used to read so much and I never wanted to go out. They’d come home and tell me to get out of the house and enjoy the day. I’d slink out and sit on the garage step, still technically inside, but just out of the house. There was enough light from the open door to read, but also enough protection from the sun, wind and annoying brother and friends. I hope I have been choosing differently these days. (No I haven’t given up reading, I’m just trying to find a balance!) Now that the weather is nice, I’ve been making an effort to spend a lot of the mornings outside w/Moses. We bike, play in the back yard and go up and down the block. Sometimes we meet friends at a park and go walking after school and on weekends at a nature preserve w/Dave. What do you do to re-connect w/nature? Even if you don’t have kids you can answer that one…Is it hard for you to find time? Do you have a favorite place to go? Do you have a favorite memory of natural play?