I've been reading a book called "Last Child in the Woods" which is about a lot of things I've believed for a while about how I'd like to raise my hypothetical, future children. (I have to qualify that lest some of my readers think that there is any possibility of children in my near future... which there is not)
I really encourage all parents (and future, hypothetical parents, too) read this book. There's a link to it on the right hand side of my page. It isn't about hippies telling people how to live or how to raise their children without using toilet paper (thankyouverymuch Sheryl Crow) but it's a practical look at how children are being raised today - in less and less contact with the natural world, and the consequences to children in their adulthood.
If you're an adult now, think about your childhood. When you were young did you play in the woods, or up the street from where you live? Were you allowed to explore, build forts, bring home animals, use your imagination? Was there a place outside somewhere that you knew better than the back of your hand? Do you remember the seasons, or playing outside in the winter, summer, fall, and the special things that went with those times? I do.
You don't have to be rich either, to experience a rich childhood outdoors. Most people found places near them, and playing outside is free most of the time. I played in my backyard, up the street, behind people's houses. The picture above is of me climbing one of the maple trees in my front yard. When they could, my parents took me to the beach on Long Island, and we had picnics at Green Lakes, a small lake a few towns over.
Every season we did something different outside - collected leaves, carved pumpkins, played with "helicopters" (maple tree seed pods), made boats for the backyard when it flooded in the spring, dug in the dirt, read in the hammock suspended in the backyard tree, planted things, collected shells, painted rocks with water so they looked just as pretty as on the beach... I could write a whole book on the things that we did for free as a kid outside.
Now, think of the typical eight year old that you know now. Maybe its your own child, who makes a bee-line right from the bus after school to instant message their friends on the computer, or perhaps they walk through the door already texting someone on their cell phone. Their head down, looking at something small and blinking, they miss everything going by, they miss the rainbow in the sky and the bird sitting in the trees. Take them outside, and they're bored. Children today are punished by loss of TV time. Children of the past were punished by being kept indoors while all their friends played outside.
What I love about this book is that it isn't an apocalyptic story about how all of our future generation will end up as zombies or hyper neurotic adults. It is a simple discussion, reflection and instruction on how to get kids into nature, and how to make sure that nature experiences are a part of every child's formative years - by allowing for unstructured play, involving children in outdoor activities beyond just a plain sports field, and many other subtle things that are often missed these days. I think this is more important than our society realizes...