Over three years after first hearing about it, I’ve just read the book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.
There were a number of points made, but the overall message that I appreciated being reminded of was that nature is an important contributor to the quality of life to a child, and something to consciously nurture.
I also appreciated when the author pointed out that being in nature isn’t about taking your kids to a distant national park or walking through a forest, which is what you might mentally picture when reading the title (I did!). Nature is all around us, every day and everywhere we go.
My kids who were raised in the US had different opportunities than my children do now, but they’ve all had a lot of nature/outdoor experiences in their lives. Volunteering at a sheep farm for several years, trips and classes at the nature center, hikes with a naturalist, enrollment in Junior Rangers summer programs at a state park, sailing lessons, bee keeping, treehouse building…
When I got into gardening, my kids joined in. We incubated duck eggs and raised the ducks. We did family projects that were mostly done by the kids – outdoor renovations like building a platform deck, a brick patio, raised garden beds and a wooden six foot security fence. They participated in 4H activities for years.
Our yearly family camping trips were such special times for us all – activities included hiking, fishing and boating but mostly was about just enjoying being in nature together. There is something so centering about being outdoors, hearing the birds begin to chirp as the sun rises, sitting around a campfire at night…
Even our monthly shopping trips were an opportunity to experience nature, as we shopped in Amish and Mennonite farming communities. At one supermarket I would park our van right next to the horses in the field, and when we bought our raw milk from the farmer we would sometimes go into the barn to see the cows. When I got our free range eggs, we visited yet another farm where we got to see their horses, dogs, turkeys, chickens and ducks.
When they went to sleepaway summer camps, we sent to programs with an outdoor focus where they learned canoeing and archery along with other activities. Membership in Girl Scouts included hiking the Appalachian Trail (and coming upon a rattlesnake) and a yearly group camping trip.
Now we’re living in a different part of the world with different opportunities. The specifics look different – we don’t have a car and that has drastically cut down on going places like national parks and campgrounds. But wherever we’ve lived there have been opportunities to get outside.
Something I really appreciate about living here in Israel is that It’s a culture in which it’s safer and more accepted for kids to be out without adult supervision. In the US I closely supervised my kids when they were outside, and wouldn’t have been comfortable with things that I now routinely allow.
Our boys spend lots of time riding bikes and scooters, rollerblading, creating hideouts in bushes in the public parks, and playing with friends outside. Two of our boys participate in a weekly survival/fire/knives/hiking group and that allows them to explore areas beyond our residential neighborhood.
I still love gardening and am grateful to have a yard (albeit much, much smaller than in the US!) where my kids plant alongside me.
We don’t have family camping trips (due to not having a car to get there) but for the last two summers, we’ve set up our large family sized tent on our porch and the kids spent weeks sleeping there in the summer. My husband has found some local hikes that are accessible by bus and has taken the kids there – one of their favorite hikes happened when they didn’t quite find the place they set out to get to. But on the way they found animal bones and picked almonds from trees they discovered and had a great time – they plan to go back this year when the almonds are in season and do some serious picking!
It’s really about awareness and looking for opportunities even in the small moments – seeing the interesting bug or bird and taking the time to observe it, sitting quietly on the grass together and listening to the trees rustle in the wind…you don’t have to go far from home for your child to be able to experience nature.
While parents will sometimes say that kids need to invest in their technological skills so that they aren’t left behind, I feel that’s very overrated. Kids today are inside much more than in the past, on screens and devices and that takes away from the time that they’re outdoors. Kids need to be outside, to move their bodies, to feel sun on their faces.
I enjoyed these photos taken by a mom of four children who has chosen to limit her children’s access to television and electronic gadgets – she beautifully captured the ability of kids to just be in the moment, to entertain themselves, to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
You know what motivated me to buy this book? I wanted to read something inspiring, something affirming, something that focused on something that isn’t achievement oriented but is about letting your kids have room to grow and just be.
That’s a big value for me – to give our children the space and time to be kids, to grow at their own pace, to have a sane and enjoyable pace of life. It’s something that I sometimes feel is getting lost in our society’s ever increasing pace of life, the drive to accomplish and get things done…as people are getting more disconnected from one another and from themselves.
Nature and outdoor time is part of the answer to shifting away from that driving pace and getting recentered with yourself and your family. It can be intimidating for parents to get their kids away from screens but it’s worth the effort – there are so many benefits to the individual and to the family!