27 June 2011

No Child Left Inside

The girl had a friend over the other day. After they were done reassembling cars and tormenting kittens, they went outside and dug up ants and worms for two hours. I checked in on them periodically, only to be told things like "we're helping the worms give birth" and "here's the egg sac".

I'm not even sure what they were using as dissection tools, but I'm pretty sure that the "egg sac" was some part of the worm's digestive tract.

At least they weren't eating them.

There is a little piece of me, the usually dormant compulsively tidy piece, that gets irritated when she digs up worms in the middle of our not very stable lawn-on-a-hill, or builds forts with sticks woven through newly planted shrubs. But I bite my tongue a lot, because really? I like that she's outside communing with nature and making hosta leaf boats for ants and acting as midwife to worms. Digging in the dirt, learning to fish, planting seeds - it's all part of keeping her connected to the earth, something that is incredibly important for lots of reasons.

When I was a kid, we spent hours and hours outside every day. There was an undeveloped lot behind our house, with a secret clearing and lots of trees to climb. There were kids to play with, one of whom had a rudimentary zip line in the backyard, others with rhododendron forts or jungle gyms. We had a radius of a couple of blocks - and when my mother blew the whistle, it was time to go home.

Too often these day, it seems like kids just don't go outside. It's too hot, or the TV beckons, or there's a violin lesson, or there's too much traffic, or there's no dirt around. Or something. What it boils down to is not enough unstructured play time, where you just figure out what to do.

I just read Grow the Good Life. I'd downloaded a Kindle sample based on the New York Times book review, and liked the sample so much that I bought a hard cover copy. It's a rant - it's not a "how to" book, it's a "why" book. Oh, there are a few tips - like, mulch early and often - but mostly it's get outside and garden because it's good for you, and your kids, and the earth. In the chapter about children - the author, Michele Owens, has three pesky kids - there's reference to "nature-deficit disorder", a term coined a few years ago by Richard Louv. Louv says, in his book Last Child in the Woods:

Reducing that deficit - healing the broken bond between our young and nature - is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends on it. The health of the earth is at stake as well. How the young respond to nature, and how they raise their own children, will shape the configurations and conditions of our cities, homes - our daily lives.

For me, reading either, both, of these books was a little like preaching to the converted. We're doing a lot to keep the girl grounded, metaphorically and physically. But still, it's good to have positive articulated reinforcement for things that I feel strongly about.

I'm sending the kid outside again (as soon as it stops raining anyway). By the end of the summer, we may have no ants left. No child left inside, no ants left outside. Win, win, win.

16 comments:

Anjali said...

Love this post, and feel the exact same way. The other day someone fell into the stream by my house, and I just bit my tongue.

FreshHell said...

Yes! It's one of the reasons I moved to the country - unfettered access to nature without worrying about traffic. They can go outside and I don't have to watch and worry. They dig holes, build forts under the shrubs, yell and play and discover. I was a city kid and spent most of my summers outside but I would worry a bit if my kids were riding bikes around my old neighborhood. Where we are now, I don't have to hover. They can get as dirty as they want. That's what summer should be about.

Bon said...

perhaps if i send the kids outside they'll manage to take down all the mosquitoes? if they aren't carried away by them, that is...

leanne said...

This spring my son dug a hole, a huge hole (he-can-sit-inside-of-it huge), in the mulch around our lilac in the backyard. He spent a number of days digging that hole and loving every minute of it. He unearthed some great rocks for his rock collection.

I love that he and his sister love playing outside in the dirt. Makes me happy. No child left inside. Indeed.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Richard Louv's kids went to the same school as mine--he comes across a bit better as a writer than as a person. Still, his message is one worth noting.

We felt the same way you do about the outdoors and my 21-year old son just called me to let me know he'd be incommunicado for a couple of days as he and a friend are heading for the mountains.

Slow Panic said...

I have a hard time getting my kids outside -- I'll admit it. We're getting better at it, but it's always been a challenge.

Mental P Mama said...

Good on you!!! I wish you would publish this!

MDTaz said...

In a couple of days, the girls will go to the country house, and for three weeks - close to four - they'll be doing the wild-child thing, watering the garden, playing in the woods, running down the road to see the baby lambs at the neighbor's farm. I'll join them a bit later, and I can't wait to get there. I guess it's not just my kids who need to get back to nature, it's me too.

Emily said...

Or all the ants will be inside...

heidi said...

YES! Bugs have been big here too this summer. We have a roving pack of varmint bandits that spend hours going from yard to yard in our dead end. There were holes dug, bugs collected & dissected, bamboo branches dragged, and science experiments started. When it's time for dinner or bed, none of us want them to stop, so we let it go...

jo(e) said...

I couldn't agree more.

mayberry said...

Hear, hear! I just listened to Richard Louv on the radio the other day and he talked about how too much inside time is actually making kids myopic. Crazy.

De said...

I'd agree with you in the morning, but by mid-afternoon, I hardly care that there is a pile of mulch giving me the stink eye and I can hear the weeds laughing. Maybe I should change my work hours?

Swistle said...

I am finding that Outside Time is like Nutrition and Extracurriculars and EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD, in that there is WILDLY CONFLICTING information coming at me from ALL SIDES and it makes it difficult to THINK. Like, for outside time, it's so important for them to play in the outdoors, and I have such happy "playing in the field/woods" and "digging in the mud" memories for my own childhood"---but then we're also constantly inundated with "KEEP THEM OUT OF THE SUN!!!" and "DON'T LET THEM GET BITTEN BY MOSQUITOES OR TICKS!!!" and "BUT DON'T USE BUG SPRAY, IT'S DANGEROUS!!!" and "DON'T LET THEM OUT OF YOUR SIGHT FOR 30 SECONDS!!" and "DIRT CONTAINS DANGEROUS E COLI AND THAT THING IN CAT LITTER BOXES!!!" and ack. It makes me feel crazy.

Karla said...

In our house if the boys don't come inside covered in dirt at night, it wasn't a good day. Great post!

Kyla said...

We only go outside to swim! Summer is too hot for outdoors time here. We do have a good stretch in March where we are outside every free minute, I hear that is what summer feels like in other parts of the country. LOL. I hate our weather.