Saturday, April 23, 2011

Get Outside And Play!

This book sparked a national debate that spawned
an international movement to reconnect
kids and nature. 
I recently picked up a book called Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder which details cutting-edge studies that link the lack of nature in children's lives to the growing rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. The Author, Richard Louv, makes the case that direct exposure to nature is essential to a child's healthy physical and emotional development. Additionally, he talks about how children today are so disconnected from where their food comes from and how the way we live effects the world we live in, that they may grow up to be adults who have less compassion for animals and nature. I began to wonder about my two city kids and how good a job I was doing in the nature-deficit department.

That's me, circa 1070.
Staring at clouds? Watching birds?
Daydreaming? 
Growing up in an apartment in Brooklyn, NY in the 1970's and 80's I wouldn't say that I had an overwhelming exposure to nature. But I do have some very clear memories that have to do with being outdoors and experiencing nature in a powerful way. My very early years were spent traveling throughout Europe with my hippie parents living in such far-flung places as Ibiza, Perugia, London and beyond. I have no real memories beyond the stories I was told, but the photos I have show a child completely free to run through fields, inspect bugs, gather flowers and spin tales of "friends" who lived in the woods. I have to believe that these experiences shaped the way I think in a fundamental way.

I remember the delight of finding
wild strawberries in the tall grass
I do very clearly remember, however, walking through the woods in upstate New York with my dad as we searched for mushrooms. He had a book that detailed all the different types and which ones were OK to eat and so forth. We ate the small ones, sauteed in an omelette and my father carved the soft, white flesh of the giant mushrooms with intricate pictures, like scrimshaw, using a small knife. He sat with me and showed me the delicate spokes that fanned out from the stalk along the undersides; they seemed to me to be magical fairy umbrellas. I remember exploring the overgrown fields around my grandmother's home, as we made our way down to the lake. We picked tiny, wild strawberries in her front yard and cucumbers and tomatoes from her garden. One of my favorite outdoor memories is of my father and I slipping through a broken chain link fence into a forgotten and overgrown garden at a nearby park where we would take our dogs for a walk. Once inside, we would sit beneath a shady tree in the tall grass and read from the book, Watership Down; one chapter at a time, hour after hour it seemed. Just the two of us, as the dogs ran free, and bumblebees buzzed lazily nearby. Even these infrequent, but special, moments spent outdoors taught me to respect nature and all that it provides. 

So, although I was raised in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the world, I knew, from experience, the difference between the fun I might have, say, playing at a friend's house or the enjoyment I got from watching TV, and the pure bliss I felt when I was exploring the world outside. Not that I ever became an outdoor adventure type, but I do recognize the rejuvenation and stress reduction I feel when I spend even a little time near water, the woods, listening to birds chatter, watching a sun set...I can only imagine it does the same for my children.

Last Child in the Woods begins with a powerful quote from Walt Whitman:
"There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became.
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and white and red morning glories, and white and red clover,
and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs and the sow's pink-faint litter,
and the mare's foal and the cow's calf..."

How can we expect a child who spends his days indoors, or so closely guarded by anxious parents, to understand this sense of oneness with the world? Richard Louv talks about how even in areas where outdoor play is accessible that "Countless communities have virtually outlawed unstructured outdoor nature play, often because of the threat of lawsuits, but also because of a growing obsession with order." How much are children today missing by not having the opportunity to build a treehouse fort or explore a babbling stream? I know how lucky my children are that we live in Southern California and can explore the world most months of the year. But do I take full advantage of it? What more can I do?  

Some ideas for getting your kids outdoors and loving it:
We use our son's love of photography to
get him outdoors and having fun
  • From Richard Louv's book: "Tell your children stories about your special childhood places in nature. Then help them find their own: leaves beneath a backyard willow, the ditch behind the house, the meadow in the woods, the turn of a creek. In Washington State, the Wilderness Awareness School calls this a 'sit spot', recommending, 'let this be a place where you learn to sit still -- alone, often, and quietly...This will become your place of intimate connection with nature.' " The Wilderness Awareness School, by the way, looks amazing. If you have the opportunity, check it out!
  • Children & Nature Network. I love this site. From their bio: "The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) was created to encourage and support the people and organizations working nationally and internationally to reconnect children with nature. The network provides a critical link between researchers and individuals, educators and organizations dedicated to children's health and well-being".
  • Go Explore Nature A blog focused on, you guessed it, outdoor play!
  • Childhood 101 A great blog overall, this particular post is titled "24 Ideas For Family Fun In The Backyard"
  • Active Kids Club a great place for inspiration or to connect with parents in your area who want to create outdoor play groups.
  • Encourage your kids to go camping in the backyard. Join the National Wildlife Foundation's Great American Backyard Campout.
  • Our 4-year old son has recently discovered a love of photography. It's very easy to get him outdoors with a camera and he gets up close to bugs, leaves, dirt etc. Afterwards, we print out the ones he loves most and are making a book together. Then we can research information about the things he took pictures of. It gets him excited to go out and do it again!
These are just a few ideas, what do your kids love doing that gets them connected with nature? What are your thoughts about our children's generation needing more time spent outdoors? And what are your favorite childhood memories of the outdoors that you would want to share with your children? I'd love to hear what you think.

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

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12 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Christina Simon said...

I love Tree People in Coldwater Canyon and playing tennis with the kids. Great piece!

The Twin Coach said...

Oh yes, I forgot about Tree People! We did that once & it was great. Thanks Christina. And playing sports with your kids is such a great way to build connection on so many levels. Good for you.

Dana said...

We go to the park everyday unless it's seriously raining. That involves walking three or four blocks, so I don't rush it. I consider it part of the journey. If the kids want to linger in the open field we pass to pick wildflowers or climb trees, we do. They race on the sidewalks, stomp mud puddles, collect sticks and make clover chains.
They play in the back yard most days as well and I don't hover (I often stay inside to make dinner or do other chores). They're free to build brick forts, make mud pies or dig tunnels.
We go hiking and camping too. And last summer, we discovered a family camp in Maine that I'm fairly certain we'll return to annually for the next decade. The kids explored the woods, the beach, their own boundaries.
I grew up doing all of these things with parents who gave us great freedom to roam. It's a gift I try to give my own children.

janetlansbury said...

Oh, this is beautiful, Gina! Your words (and Walt Whitman's) are making me teary... Thank you, especially, for these wonderful recommendations. Must share on my FB page NOW!

The Twin Coach said...

Thank you so much for sharing this post, Janet. I am re-discovering all of the wonderful ways children can explore & fall in love with nature. It's amazing how much kids can teach you. :)

The Twin Coach said...

Dana, thank you so much for your note. I especially love how you show your kids that even little moments (like a walk to the park) can be something special. And I want to know what camp in Maine you guys discovered! It sounds amazing!
~ Gina

Cam - Bibs and Baubles said...

we live in southern California too and I have been making a point lately of getting my little man out to see nature. thanks for this reminder. the book sounds really interesting. i really like your last idea about taking pictures and making a book. i'll have to try that one.

Debi said...

Great post, Gina - I'm flattered to have been mentioned among such fantastic resources!

The Twin Coach said...

Cam, thank you so much for your note and I'm so glad you stopped by. Yes, the book is very interesting, I'm really liking it so far. Let us know how your photo project turns out!

Hi Debi! Thanks for the note. I'm so glad to have found your website & was happy to include it....you have some terrific ideas there!

Dana said...

Just came back and saw that you asked about the camp. It's called Kingsley Pines and it's in southern Maine. Here's the link:
http://www.kingsleypines.com/Content/FamilyCamp/FamilyCamp.asp
I cannot not say enough good things about it.

David Crowley said...

I've heard several people mention this book lately, so just added it to my newly minted Pinterest "to read" board! Good tips too, will check out the sites you mention, thanks.

The Twin Coach said...

Thanks for your note, David. I love that you have a Pinterest board for books to read. What a great idea! The book is wonderful...let me know what you think when you finish it. :)
- Gina

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