Monday, September 29, 2008

Last Child in the Woods

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,...

--Walt Whitman

I like to play indoors 'cause that's where all the
electrical outlets are.

--A Fourth Grader in San Diego

So begins Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. I've just begun reading this, but I've heard so much about it for years and agree with everything I've heard: children lose a great deal of themselves when they don't connect with Nature, the expanse of the world expands them, connecting to Nature is calming and restorative.

I thought I should finally read this book, however, and so far I appreciate it. My kids have loved all of their cicada hunts and butterfly releases right in our own backyard this summer, but I'm wondering if there are more ways that I can feel comfortable that allow them their own unencumbered exploring of the natural world--without me around.

We don't have woods in our suburban neighborhood, but we do have a park with lots of clusters of bushes to make "forts" and rows of hedges where you can be a spy. I have dared to let them go to the park by themselves a couple of times now. Louv addresses this in the book as well: that is, that there is a pervasive notion that kids are in danger all of the time and must be watched, looked after, managed and have all of their "activities" planned out. No free time. No free space. What are kids losing with all of this caution? What might they gain from their own time and space in Nature?

What have you found with your kids? How much exploring do you allow?

Have you read this book? What did you think?

I know from my own childhood experiences that I benefited greatly from time in the woods. I know I learned of my own wildness and naturalness through camping trips and walks in the woods. I hope my kids are getting that too. At least to the extent that they run around and dig holes in our backyard, climb trees, and watch spiders at work, so far they don't prefer being indoors where all of the outlets are...


Mama bee said...

Since my little one is still pretty little, I haven't gotten to see how much freedom I'm comfortable giving her. I hope we'll live near some woodsy area where I feel comfortable letting her roam free. My childhood experiences of exploring in the woods with my friends were some of the best.

Please let us know what you think of the book when you're done - I keep meaning to read it.

Laura said...

I will let you know!

Anonymous said...

My kids aren't old enough to roam freely yet, but I do try to take them to unstructured outdoor spaces and let them guide what we do. Rather than me suggesting an activity, I sit or stand back and let them take charge. It helps them to explore nature in their own way and also gives them some time to be in charge, which is also important to building self confidence and creativity.

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