Sunday, June 20, 2010

Last Child in the Woods (on Father's Day)

Day 132 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Lisa is reading The Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, about nature-deficit disorder. I've linked you to his website, where you can learn more about him, the book, and the Children and Nature Network, which helps get kids back outside.

I'm so glad the book has got people thinking and talking about this, about how kids would be healthier and happier with more outdoor play, and truly immersed in nature. I understand parents' fears these days about letting kids run loose--our American society seems much less safe than when I grew up--but I had not considered an aspect mentioned in the Scientific American review of the book: kids have less access to some land due to landowners' fear of lawsuits. Sigh...

We moved from a big city to a small town in part so our kids could be freer and more independent, and get out there on their bikes and play in the park with their friends, and they do, or did, for a time, age appropriately, but my kids, like a lot of kids, are also wrapped up in electronic media, and find it more exciting that the slower pace of how things grow. They tolerate my little tours of the yard to point out what's blooming now. But they do still like walking or biking on the trail, and things are growing and blooming there, birds are nesting, etc.

But here's a strange development: my son prefers produce from the grocery store to something straight from the ground because 1) it has dirt and 2) bugs were on it. Egad! If I explain that the grocery store food was also in the ground and probably bugs were on it, he just won't eat any fruit or vegetables at all. "This stuff is picked ripe," I can say about food from the Farmers Market or the grandparents' garden, and "We have mint growing in our own back yard!" but there is still resistance. When I stress how we don't use herbicides and pesticides in our yard, so the mint is really clean, he'll just say, "Yeah, no pesticides, so bugs were on it." Sigh...

Just last night at a Father's Day dinner out, my husband and the kids were talking about camping. (They've been talking about it for years, not actually doing it. I haven't been camping since the Appalachian Trail, before kids. Have I sighed lately? Anyhoo!) I've got news for my kids: there will be bugs!

My neighbor's kids love bugs and recently hatched and released a zillion praying mantises into the yard. I took one (or a few, they were crawling on me) home to our yard, too, and I remember how awed my kids were each time we'd find a praying mantis or walking stick in the back yard here, in our postage stamp yard in Chicago, or visiting friends in Michigan, with hummingbirds! Yes, there is still wonder and delight in nature, and I hope my kids will stay open to it.

And now, because it's Father Day, I'll tell a little story my dad tells about searching for my brother Jeff in the woods in Florida. We had the run of the neighborhood in Gainesville, but we weren't supposed to go into the woods alone, as there were various dangers. Quicksand, for one. Barbed wire (at the edge of privately-owned land, I realize as a grown up, but we were climbing through it as kids.) We had gone on family hikes, though, so Jeff and his friend knew where they were headed on that shared tricycle. To the woods, the creek, an adventure!

But Jeff and Kenny did not return when called, so off the dads went on a search. And then, high up on a ridge, my dad looked down on a tricycle submerged in the creek, no sign of two little boys, and came the awful way home, heart pounding, to start the next stage of the search.

And there they were, safe, afraid to speak of the lost tricycle, but not sucked down by quicksand.


Karen said...

I read this book last year and loved it! I thought the parts about spending time outdoors increasing children's concentration time were really interesting.

If you don't have a tent and want to borrow one, you're more than welcome to ours. :)

Kathleen said...

Yay! We don't, and I bet we would!

JulieK said...

My family camped a lot when I was young and I'm afraid I vowed never to camp again if I could manage it. And I haven't. Although there is a very fetching picture of me in a sleeping bag, snapped when Scott and I camped on our way back from a wedding in Missouri. That may've been the last time I camped. 1976!

But last night we had our cat out in the back yard after dark and he was fascinated by lightning bugs, and I felt this pang of nostalgia for the days my sisters and I used to love trying to catch them. I was never fond of praying mantises (mantes?) or other bugs, but there's something very romantic about the glow of fireflies in your back yard on a summer night. We shared the joy of nature with the closest thing we have to a child -- the cat -- at any rate!