A long time ago I posted that I wanted to do a book review on Richard Louv's book: Last Child in the Woods. I didn't really forget, I just wasn't sure how to go about putting my feelings about it into words on the blog. The premise from the book is that removing children from experiencing the outdoors is in fact one of the causes of our societal outbreaks of childhood obesity, ADHD and depression.
It isn't just a book deriding parents and governmental entities for not letting kids get out and experience nature, but also a how to. How to get back to the freedom of experiencing the natural world for kids and ourselves. There isn't a requirement to have a local 2,000acre state/national park nearby. We are reminded that nature exists even in the most urban and suburban of locals.
It is letting go of our control of how kids experience nature that is important. Let a kid climb a tree, roll over the log and search for bugs, float leaves on a stream...the list is endless. Experiencing nature through all their senses, and without a hovering adult. Louv does reiterate that this doesn't mean suddenly letting your free without any idea how to interact with nature. Adults are still responsible to teach safety rules and respect for the natural world.
I have to say, as a non-homeschooling book, The Last Child in the Woods, has really made an impact in how I think about educating and being with my kids. Letting them go and letting them experience life.
Mary is eight-and-a-half this summer. I remember being this age and I remember my hours running wild around our neighborhood and through the nearby woods. By nine I was on my bike and branching out to other neighborhoods and tagging along with the 'older' kids (~11) to go to the donut shop. I could fix my own meals if necessary, get myself somewhere at a particular time and I knew when places or activities seemed safe or not. My mom made sure I knew basic safety rules, but I could only learn to do things by doing them.
Mary's borders are going to open up a little more this summer. She'll be able to go visit kids in the next neighborhood over, go to the greenway and even the library. But, I can't entirely cut the apron strings...she will also be getting a cellphone to carry with her. I haven't done this with no preparation. We have been spending time together alone, riding our bikes so that I can observe how she rides on the road and follows the rules. We've discussed how freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand, listening to that voice in the gut, and reviewed our safety rules. This doesn't mean I won't be a nervous wreck the first few times she heads out, but I also know she is learning important skills in her journey to adulthood.
Yesterday I came across the website FreeRangeKids, a site devoted to letting our kids experience more freedom in the absence of a hovering parent. Wow, others who think similarly to me.
My changes haven't only been in making sure my children get outside, or Mary gaining freedom, but also in how I am approaching education (becoming more and more relaxed/unschooly), how we interact on Field Trips (as long as the kids are following the rules, I sit back and let them guide me - show me what is interesting) and in general life.
The letting go of control has been a very hard and difficult lesson for me, but something I needed.