kidsplayinginthewater

Kids and nature: they need each other

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

“I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” - a fourth-grader in San Diego

Most of my childhood summers were spent exploring the creek bed that ran through my suburban neighborhood, hanging out at the community pool until dusk, and then playing Sardines with the other kids on my block until Mom called me in for dinner.

I’d watch a few cartoons here and there, but they definitely didn’t stop me from reading books on the hammock in our backyard or riding my bike to my friend’s house with a treehouse. I remember that feeling of running inside only to grab a drink of water, or to squirm in my seat for lunch until I could go back outside again.

In other words, much of my childhood playtime was spent outdoors. And I’d venture to say that yours was, too.

This current generation of children has a very different perspective of the outdoors. It could be because of fearful parents, wary (perhaps justifiably?) of sickos roaming our suburbs. Or it could be for HOA reasons, where neighborhoods won’t allow homemade play structures because of curb appeal.

It could also be because of our plugged-in world. We’ve got channel upon channel of TV programming geared just to the preschool crowd, there are thousands of video games calling for our kids’ attention, and let’s not forget the internet — Webkinz, free online games, and downloaded movies are just a few of our kids’ choices.

How can crickets and oak trees compete with those?

Our next selection in the Book Club, Last Child in the Woods, addresses these issues. The writer, Richard Louv, is recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal and chairman of the Children & Nature Network. His work was the catalyst for the Leave No Child Inside movement gaining momentum around the world.

As many of the book’s reviewers have said, I feel like this is a MUST read for parents. It’s that important.

Our children’s childhoods need nature. Our families’ well-being will escalate when we spend more time together outside. And the earth needs future stewards who know how to live within their environment in a respectful, appreciative manner.

Our culture is not headed in that direction. It’s up to individual families to ensure our kids have a connection to nature — studies have shown that direct exposure to nature is essential for a child’s healthy physical and emotional development.

As Louv himself says, “The children and nature movement is fueled by this fundamental idea: the child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.”

It’s not just an “oh well” thing that you can no longer see kids playing outside when you drive through a suburb. It’s an alarm for a much-needed wake-up call.

Our next Book Club gathering is this Thursday, and all are welcome to join! Even if you haven’t yet scored a copy of the book, you’re free to join in the discussion at the forums. Be sure to reserve a copy at the local library, or you can order one at Amazon through the Simple Mom Shop, which will help support this site and the Book Club.

This week, we’ll start with discussing chapters one and two. As a preface, please understand that this book reads a little more… “cerebrally” than our previous read, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I don’t want you to get discouraged, because Louv begins the work with a background of America’s history with nature. It’s very fascinating, trust me. We’re going to have a great discussion.

I hope you’ll join us! Last Child in the Woods is a great start to the summer, and I hope reading it will be an impetus for us parents to provide our kids opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

Do your kids like being outside? How do you encourage them to spend time with the trees instead of a screen?

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Comments

  1. There is where I feel so blessed to not only be living overseas but so close to the beach. My girls live outside. In fact I joked with my husband that I should just sell all their indoor toys since they hardly play with them. I might also help that although my hubby and I enjoy our gagets and internet our girls have no idea about it. I feel like they are too young for those kinds of toys and games!

  2. I grew up outdoors, and I really wanted my son to experience the world outside, too. So, I recently moved to a rural farm that’s a stone’s throw from the beach. He’s still a little young to be exploring the woods, fields, streams and beach – but we’re often out on walks, playing with the weeds at the edge of the fields and watching the lambs bounce around.

    I know a lot of parents in my area who keep their kids indoors because of allergies such as hayfever. When I was a child, I never knew anyone who had hayfever and yet in today’s kids it seems particularly prevalent.

  3. Ever since my little ones were born, I’ve noticed the power of outdoors. When everyone is breaking down, just opening the front door changes the mood and everyone gets happy. We try to be outdoors as much as possible–and it seems that everyone wins. The house doesn’t get messed up, the kids are happy, and we bump into neighbors and friends…more naturally.

    Looking forward to reading together.

    Nicole´s last blog post…Planks and Specks

    • This is so true! Ever since my kid was a tiny little baby, the only way to calm him down was to take him for a walk. When everything else would fail, I would rush out the door and start walking with him in the sling. As he grew up, when he would start crying hysterically, I would take him to the fresh air and instantly, within seconds, he would start smiling. There is a power no to be underestimated in the outdoors, in the nature.

      Emma @ Baby-log.com´s last blog post…First weeks at child care: not happy, mum!

  4. My kids would prefer to be outside. We just keep the backdoor open and they go in and out as they please. I wish I could feel comfortable with them running around free out front, but the fear of someone snatching them is too great. We go on walks and to the park quite often. All that being said, whenever we are inside, the tv and computer are b-i-g competitors. We limit it, but it seems that even makes the allure greater. A friend of mine suggested the book, I Love Dirt by Jennifer Ward. This one that you are reading will have to go on my list too. Thanks!

    PS~Erin´s last blog post…End of the Week Links

  5. Ironically, I wasn’t much of an outdoor kid myself. I watched way too much television, although I was always an avid reader as well. But I’m getting a second chance with my three kiddos now – and we spend a lot of time outside.

    I find it brings a peacefulness to our days.

    Jamie

    steadymom´s last blog post…Staycation Day Two

  6. I had a in-service on this book at the school I work at. I posted a interesting article written by the Director.

    My Son had homework one day to write down how much electricity he used in one night. I was pleasantly surprised he only used 1 hour. He was outside the minute he got home from school. 1/2 hour was spent reading a book. I must be doing something right. :)

  7. avatar
    Valerie R. says:

    I too spent the majority of my summer days outside. There was a park within walking distance, empty lots, and some (very) small wooded areas that we would explore daily. I knew every inch of my backyard.

    Unfortunately, I do see that my kids are not out nearly as much. There are many reasons…hayfever and asthma among them. And a few random other outdoor allergies we discovered last summer. However, we will be doing a lot of outdoor exploring this summer though…camping, parks, etc. We’ll see how it goes.

    I’m excited about this book, and I’ve already started reading. I’ve seen a lot of local workshops on “Nature Deficit Disorder.” I think that term is catching on.

  8. I had severe allergies growing up and needed daily allergy pills as well as weekly allergy shots to keep it under control. My mom did not try to keep my cooped up inside however. I played outside with the neighborhood kids all the time! We did have an old-school Nintendo when they came out, however I think we found a healthy balance of video games and outside play.
    I’m sad to say that where we currently live is a not-very-safe location, and I would be wary of letting my son out of my sight. There is a park down the street that is notorious for gang and drug activity.

  9. We’re trying to be outside more ( New Years resolution) They go out but are like boomerangs, back in. They aren’t addicted to the screens. They love to run and play where we are. I’m inside so they are inside. What’s helping me is to bring their toys out and encourage more tag games outside. They’ve fallen in love with their scooters too so they are leading me outside too. It’s getting better.

    I was out a lot when I was their age. We’re making more of an effort to keep playing outdoors. Living in a different country though means many of my childhood games- ‘Cake or Candle’ etc I can’t find to do Lots of the woodsy places here you need to pay to get in.

    Not giving up. It’s just harder I find.

  10. We live in a fairly safe rural area, but if I’m not conscious about it my kids are spending too much time in front of the tv. We have a rule of no tv when friends come over which helps get them outside. Also, we own a spare lot across the street that my husband dug several dirt hills of various sizes. The whole neighbor will play over there on their bikes. It’s been fantastic!

  11. If the sun’s out, so are my sons!

    I too remember being outside ALL summer long. My family was blessed to live on a corner and our 2 neighbors had bunches of kids! I always thought we were just out on our own to do whatever we pleased…recently my mom told me that her and the other neighbor moms had a total system down! Sneaky, Sneaky!!! We had a less then desirable man down the street…SO…we were taught to steer clear and always stay in groups.

    Thanks for starting this talk! More kids need to unplug from the tv and get outside, use their imaginations and have FUN!

  12. what a lovely post. i am eager to read this book!

    we are blessed to have a beautiful climbing tree in our backyard which my son has claimed & a large fenced backyard. we put rock climbing handles on the back of the tree so he could learn to climb. he is currently attempting to talk daddy into building a tree house, too!

    we also have the very necessary dirt pile for discoveries & digging…those two things all summer entertain my kids. it is amazing what they can do with the freedom to use their imagination.

    we are also blessed w/ wonderful neighbors that have always complimented us on hearing the laughter of our children outside. knowing it brings joy to their hearts helps me to encourage them to play outside.

  13. avatar
    hugsandkisses says:

    OK all you young moms,remember that there are roaring animals outside so please don’t leave your children unattended not for a minute. Let me say it one more time”DON”T LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN UNATTENDED NOT FOR A MINUTE.” This is a different age. Give the children something to look forward to,say outdoor play from 10 am to 12pm,then lunch then nap,then whatever,but children will be safer if mom is watching because someone may be watching to see if you are watching……….

    • After a neighbor told me a creep was watching my daughter outside one day while I was unloading groceries, I’ve been a bit more reluctant to let her be as much of a “free roaming” kid. Probably doesn’t help that I’m reading a book about a child that was abducted. I do agree that kids need more nature, though.

      Janet´s last blog post…Best Weight Loss Tip Ever

    • True, and thanks for your perspective. However, we parents can too easily become paralyzed by all the info out there about what’s going on around the world. I’d hate for my kids to look back one day and feel like their childhood was too structured because Mom was scared all the time.

      There’s a balance. We need to watchful and responsible, and we don’t want to be naive about the dangers out there. BUT we don’t want to assume that the majority of the time, our kids are in danger. Backyards, playtime in the front yard with a parent sitting with iced tea on the front porch, outside time with good friends in a trusted place… All these are important to childhood.

  14. I read this book last year and HEARTILY agree.

    My kids’ childhood looks nothing like mine because we live in the city, but it has always been a priority for them to have daily hours outdoors, no matter the weather.

    Melitsa: Loved your comment. Harder to find, but not impossible, is it!

    Thank you for promoting this–

    deb meyers

  15. I was outdoors every day, all day when I was growing up. We didn’t have TV or even electricity, for that matter!! it was the best childhood ever, and even though we live in the ‘burbs, we are trying to teach our children to love nature.

    Looking forward to this read–hope my book gets here soon!

    Aimee´s last blog post…Announcing…UtHC Jam Swap ’09

  16. This is a great selection! I can’t wait to read it. It echos my own feelings about childhood. It really surprises me how many mothers are appalled that I take my daughter to the woods and let her roam through streams or get completely covered in mud.

    I agree that we must be cautious and observant to keep our children safe… but we must be careful to not let the fears overtake our ability to teach our children how to live. I think it does take more effort now, precisely because most of us can’t just send the kids outside to meander on their own, but that just makes dedicated time outside as a family more important. Nature gives us something we can’t get anywhere else. I’m looking forward to reading this.

  17. avatar
    Kristin says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few months. I know a watched cartoons here and there, but I couldn’t really tell you anything about them. Virtually all of my childhood memories of play are me playing outside with neighborhood kids. When we lived in a trailer park out in the woods there were tons of trees to climb and play around and my dad would take us for walks down the railroad tracks. After he passed away when I was 8, we moved into a house in town, but we still played outside. Me and the girl across the street would rollerskate every single day after school unless it was just pouring down rain.

    My kids do not live that way and it makes me sad. My older two are three and four and I guess I just don’t really know how much freedom to give them outside. We don’t have much for them to play with in the back yard, plus all the other neighborhood kids are out front and I just don’t feel like the are old enough to ride bikes up and down the street with the other kids. But this post has inspired me to rededicate my efforts to expose them to simple fun and nature. I think I’ll take them to a nature park today. There’s one not too far away and I believe it’s even free!

  18. You and I are definitely on the same page – I posted about Last Child in the Woods today at Simple Kids! I am SO looking forward to our discussions on this book. It is fascinating, powerful, and compelling.

    I was outside a lot as a child – particularly in the years before adolescence hit. I have to confess my girls aren’t outside as much as I was a little one, and that is something I am being inspired to change through reading this book and for other reasons.

    Like Tsh, I feel every single parent needs to read this book – and not just in the United States either! Nature-deficit is something that is happening around the world. We, as a generation of thoughtful, intentional parents, can turn the tide.

    Megan at Simple Kids´s last blog post…Connecting with Nature: Challenge #1

  19. I grew up outside, in everyone’s gardens, in the streets, in the forest near our home. I only went inside for toilet trips and food. It simply isn’t safe where we live to let young kids do that: cars, gangs of bullies and opportunistic paedophiles have ruined so many childhoods, by their actions and the fear they’ve created.

    When my kids were wee, our garden was a haven; so was the park I took them to. Under my watchful eye, they climbed trees, studied ants, dug in the dirt and played with kites and balls and later on, got more proficient on their bikes. When they were older, they went in groups to the park and carried a cheap undesirable mobile phone, just to let me know when they arrived at the park and when they were setting off for home.

    My teenage daughter still enjoys being outside with her friends as much now as she did when she was young. Maybe it’s because she’s a budding writer and feels the draw and connection of nature or maybe it’s just the freedom.

    Thanks for this piece. It really made me think.

  20. I grew up in the country, on a quiet 1 mile road. My sisters and I spent all summer roaming outside. My dad built us a log cabin play house in a secluded area on the property that was the center of years of childhood play. I am blessed, blessed, blessed to be living just two miles from my childhood home (where my parents still live), in a rural area with my three little boys. I can’t imagine them growing up without that connection to nature. This book is one of my favorites. I agree that it is a must-read. I can’t wait to dust it off and review over the next month or two. What a perfect choice for summer!

  21. I believe in this so much! What a great post!

    I am reading Last Child in the Woods right now and I have been so blessed that I recently got a job as an environmental educator with our conservation authority. I get to live and teach what I love!

    I just wrote a post about this at my blog.

    Thanks again for a great article. You never disappoint!

  22. I am so grateful that my girls love to be outside! Living in Oregon gives us the opportunity to really explore nature, but it also has very wet winters. Thanks for reminding me how important it is to put on the raincoats and rainboots and send them out in the rain – they have so much fun with that anyway! And although times are different, maybe it’s a good opportunity to force us adults into the outdoors, letting our kids lead the way…

    Leigh´s last blog post…Here Comes the Airplane!

  23. Love this book!

    Anyways, how do I get my kiddos outside? I moved to Oregon! Seriously, this time last year, we were selling our condo in Orange County, CA, with its 10-foot patio and no yard. True, we had bought a condo within a 5-minute walk of 2 parks, but when your kiddos are preschoolers, they don’t exactly get unstructured play time outside if you can’t take them somewhere.

    So when we bought a house here in Corvallis, one of my primary must-haves was a home where my children could be outside whenever they wanted and have plenty of exploring space. We didn’t get as many bedrooms as we wanted, but we did get a home at the end of a private driveway with lots of space for the kiddos to be outside whenever they want.

    For the whole first month we lived here, about the only thing those 2 kiddos did was to dig in the dirt…

    Diana (Ladybug Limited)´s last blog post…Living in the Now

    • My husband grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and we still go back there every other year for a good chunk of time. I can understand your perspective! It’s an amazing outdoors place, and my daughter loves spending time out there — from my MIL’s garden that seems to just grow on its own, to her chickens she keeps in her suburban backyard, to the park across the street, to the myriad of day trips you can take (all to outdoorsy places), Oregon’s a GREAT place to enjoy nature.

  24. I lived outdoors when I was a kid and have scars from all the bug bites I got to prove it. I hate it that we live in a suburban home that doesn’t allow my children to be outdoors more. I believe we will only be able to save our environment if we foster a firm connection between our children and nature. I think I started some kind of connection this morning as I was attempting a landscapting project while my 16 month old was eating very natural dirt by the mouth-full. She needed a head-to-toe de-mudification.
    Can’t wait to delve into this read! Abbie

  25. I feel very strongly about this. I grew up outside from morning to the sun went down! I am a little protective about my kids roaming around (the sickos out there) but they go outside and play around our home pretty often. We are strict about how often they watch tv and play on the playstation. I am interested and will visit on Thursday during your book club! Sounds like a great book!

  26. Yea! This book has been on my night table since Christmas, so now I have the motivation to dig into the reading. My son is only 2, but we would go stir crazy if we weren’t outside EVERY day – even in the snow! I’m so proud to know parents that actively limit “screen time” and encourage kids to explore, dig, run, etc.

  27. I grew up in the city but my family is from the country side of Puerto Rico. So, almost every weekend we visited and my life was full of adventures in the outdoors. My DH don’t even believe me this lol. I don’t like that we now live in the city too.. but hopefully in a year we are moving back to PR and my DH and I already decided that we are going to live in the country side of the town!!! :) whoohooo! We are excited to have our own piece of land with animals and lots of space to explore! My son already knows about it and can’t wait….

    lvlc @ FromMomToMom´s last blog post…STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES MEME ON WEDNESDAYS

  28. I absolutely agree! I, too, remember being outside all day, every day! Coming in only to eat lunch. My sister, brothers and I roamed the woods and made fabulous “dinners” (pretend of course) with the cow pies!

    I want my kids to have those same kind of memories. We live in WI so, we are cooped up a lot of the winter, but once it gets nice, the kids are outside a lot. We have a nice big yard in a rural area and woods, but I’m not quite comfortable with them going too far because we have seen a bear back there!

    My kids are still little, but I have noticed their interest in the computer is growing (probably because I work from home and am on the computer) so I will have to limit the kids’ and my computer use a little more:)

    Tashia´s last blog post…Tips for Advertising your Garage Sale

  29. TAKE BACK YOUR PARKS!
    The best deterant to unsavory kinds is real people really using their neighborhood parks. afraid to go it alone? organize a neighborhood picnic. some city police stations will sponsor neighborhood out days/nights. only persistance will make a difference not inaction.

    support your local Parks and Recreation Department in every way. not just money. you would be surprised how many people say they dont want it in their back yard. really?! kids yelling and laughing at a neighborhood pool is a bad thing?! I would love to have that across the street from my house!

    so true, not only do I have to watch my child but now I have to watch WHO is watching my child. There are just too many examples. Makes me so sad to feel that if I let my guard down for a few seconds, those may be the few seconds I will regret for the rest of my life.

    I cant wait to read this book. I am lucky enough to be able to go camping often but I would love to know how to enhance my boys learning/loving outside.

  30. I let my kids play outside. In fact, I encourage it, however I am beginning to see the lure the tv holds more than the climbing tree, hammock, forest and sandbox. It worries me. If it weren’t for my husband’s love of hockey and my addiction to Grey’s Anatomy we wouldn’t have tv at all. The kids watch it more than we do and it goes on when I am making dinner or when we need time to get other things done aroud the house. SInce our kids are 2 and 4 I don’t like to leave them playing in the yard alone away from where we can see or hear them. I am hoping they won’t get too addicted to tv so that when they are older the outdorrs will be their first and only choice. Great post. I’m tweeting it for you.

    Melodie´s last blog post…Monday Musings: What Were Your Misconceptions About Breastfeeding?

  31. We start our summer mornings outside before 7 am and only go in when it gets unbearably hot (as it does, here). We actually control the amount of screen time in our house (and we do call it that), and every Sunday is a screen free day. Even though my son loves to play outside, if we didn’t limit the time, he’d keep his eyes on some sort of screen all day!

    Casey´s last blog post…Bernina Meme

  32. New to this site, but think I’m going to really enjoy… I turn off the tv ‘for good’ regularly. I grew up in the last generation where there were only Sat a.m. cartoons. Now there are cartoons constantly (not to mention how mindless they are). It’s a battle with the box, but I’m winning now that summer is here. We are on day 5 off the big-box-drug. Doing well. Have read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and am going to reclaim my Last Child in the Woods from friend, and keep up with reads! Looking forward to it.

  33. My kids love being outside. My youngest and even the oldest (who will be 16 in 2 weeks) love to play in a pile of dirt. They get their tonka trucks and any other type of vehicle and make roads and whatever else they can think of. Hours can go by before they take a break. My daughter will take her flute outside to practice its quite lovely. We have strict rule in our house that if its nice outside all activity is to be outside. Unless it is raining or snowing no video games or computer time. It works for us!!!

  34. I was always outside as a kid. We used to live in the country and we had a barn in our back yard and our neighbors had horses in the front yard. There was always something to do outside. Even after I got married and before kids my husband and I have tried to make time to be one with nature. Our kids love being outside too.

  35. I started reading the book this weekend and I am planning on joining in on the discussion (as a first timer)… looking forward to it!

    Nathalie´s last blog post…Reward: Mom is missing from the pictures!!

  36. I’m curious if any of you have read Free Range Kids – it’s got a good blog alongside it. One of the trends it follows shows that kids aren’t abducted any more than they were in our generation – we just hear about it more, since we’re so plugged in with instant news and technology. Thus, the fear factor is risen exponentially.

    I don’t have any first-hand experience with this book or this research, but I’m curious if anyone else has.

  37. avatar
    Caroline says:

    Thank you for the reminder! I can relate to what you said about racing in to dinner and racing back outside again. I LIVED outside! I left in the morning for swim practice (rode my bike), came home and ate lunch, rode back to the pool for the afternoon, then played out side even when it was dark with all the neighbor kids! We used to play “ghost in the graveyard” :) Anyway- it is sad that this way of life has been forgotten. I agree though, I think some of it has to do with fears of sickos out there. I do not let my kids out of my sight outside. They do not have the same freedoms that I enjoyed as a child that is certain. I am thankful that with because of our son’s Vidazorb probiotic helping his allergies and Eczema…we are now able to let them play in the weeds on this hill in our yard. They LOVE it…and that is about the closest they get to “discovery” out doors unless we plan an outing. I think I need to after reading this! SmilingGreenMom *Find me on twitter!

  38. avatar
    Stephanie says:

    The parents shape a child’s view of inside and outside play. My 4 year old LOVES to be outside. Me and daddy LOVE to be outside. We are all outside except to work, go to school, and sleep. We eat outside – daily picnics. We take books and crafts outside. We take advantage of summers (live in Midwest) and are outside from sun up to sun down. The house doesn’t get cleaned as much but it also doesn’t get so dirty since we are outside. We are outside everyday, even in the winters. I love it when it snows because it gets us outside more in the winter and gives us something different to explore. We know our neighbors, especially those that are outside a lot, too.

    I have heard some parents at school complain of the kids going outside due to fear of sun cancer. This fear didn’t exist when I was a kid.

    My perception is that lot size has decreased in the past 20 years. Is there any correlation between lot size and outside play. It is hard to play tag or a game of football if there is not enough yard to run around in.

  39. I think my husband and I have naturally modeled a love for being outdoors. Almost all our favorite activities are spent outdoors.

    One way our kids are encouraged to play outside rather than sit watching a screen is we don’t have a screen available! We haven’t had TV reception since the first year our daughter was born, so they are limited to the videos we have. They are welcome to watch a video when they’ve had plenty of fresh air, and a good run around. I don’t offer a video either, I wait until they ask for it which isn’t very often! They’re too busy playing outside!

  40. Can’t wait to read this book! I’ve been excited about it ever since you posted your Reading List. I have a two-year-old boy, so it’s not hard to coax him outside. But anything I can read that will help me connect him more closely to nature throughout his childhood is a good thing.

  41. Love it! It’s something I strongly believe in myself.
    I just read this post, so I’m already 10ish chapters behind (plus I’ve yet to get a copy ;-) ), and I’ll be away until the last Thursday… so I’ll read on my own! But I think I will join the next book club!

  42. This is why we left the UK and moved to Spain. Our son hardly got anytime to play outside with the weather and the lack of garden space so we upped sticks and came to the Spanish countryside. He must have played in the garden every day since we arrived – there’s sun, space and more of our time to play with him. It’s great!
    Cheers, Chloe

    Chloe Alice Wilson´s last blog post…The Busy Parents Guide To Green Toys For Boys

  43. The quote in the yellow box is funny,.. Kids today spend most of their time indoors because of video games. But thanks to the new wireless motion sensor video game controllers because they can move their bodies now. Produce some sweat playing games. But I think it is not enough.

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