We collected caterpillars in a little red wagon, caught grasshoppers in gallon ice cream containers with holes poked in the top, and explored the small wooded lot behind our house (now a retirement community). Outside was where we wanted most to be, and it's probably where our parents wanted us to be too.
What was once an integral and very important part of my childhood has at the very least significantly declined (if not disappeared almost all together) in the younger generations of today.
Today, so many different things contribute to children spending more time inside. Below is a list of the factors I feel are mostly responsible. My hope is that being aware of these may help your family incorporate more time outdoors into your lives.
- TV. It seems like there are more shows for kids than there were all shows combined when I was young. It's almost like a drug of sorts. My son is perfectly happy camping for a week with no TV, but when we're at home, he'd stare almost mindlessly at it for hours if I'd let him.
- Over-stimulation. We are so bombarded every day with TV, computers, cell phones and the business of life, that we often don't even hear what's going on directly around us (not to mention how much of our time is filled using said gadgets). Some of my mom friends have expressed that they have a hard time relaxing enough to sit and read. I think many people have lost the ability to be still, and to be comfortable just being with ourselves. And those are gifts I want to pass along to my son! Is it possible to be content when we feel like we're missing out on something if we're not hooked up to our electronic gadgets? Try to make it a point to unhook from everything for a weekend. It's hard to make a real connection with nature if you aren't still enough to hear it, see it, touch it and smell it.
- Less leisure time (Louv, 2008). We make a conscious effort to not over-schedule our son (and our family in general) with different activities. Mainly because he doesn't adapt well to rushing around all the time, and any fun or learning we'd hope to gain from it would be lost. Also because it takes away from any free time we'd have to be spontaneous. Many of our best adventures (and greatest nature finds) have been when we've ventured off the “plan” for the day. It makes for great memories!
- School structure. Today there is less recess time and more national curriculum requirements, both of which contribute to less time for outdoor play and study (Louv, 2008, p. 205). There is also so much pressure for kids to learn more (and sooner) in school. I was amazed at how structured and learning-focused my sons kindergarten class was last year. It used to be about play time, socializing, and learning to get along with other children. Now they are expected to learn incredible amounts of information (letters, numbers, beginning math and reading) and are even tutored if they are behind. It just blew my mind!
- Parents (myself included) are much more cautious today. Richard Louv states (2008, p. 117) that parent's fear of things like stranger danger, traffic and even nature itself, prevents them from allowing their children the same freedom they had when they were young. I do give my son time alone outside to play (while I watch by a window), but he still doesn't have the freedom to explore outside the yard without me, even though I did at his age. We try to make up for this by spending as much time as we can outside with him, taking walks, going on bike rides and taking mini trips to local parks. We also camp as often as we can.
Louv, Richard (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (Rev. ed.). Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
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