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    Why Outside?

    September 20, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    Well, you all pestered me into pestering you with ideas from Last Child in the Woods {the updated and expanded version, no less}. So far, I wouldn’t say that there is anything groundbreaking in the book, though I will say the author is a better writer than I anticipated. Many books of this sort are such that I read them only for information. I don’t expect to enjoy the prose. This book, however, has had a couple bright spots, which is a nice bonus.

    I think I’ll begin by saying that I see two primary reasons for having children {or all of us} spend time in and with nature: cultivating wonder and connecting with the land. Cultivating wonder keeps us humble, especially if the delight points us back to the Creator. “Connecting with the land” probably sounds very environmentalist, but I was actually referring to this in a Genesis sense. In the beginning, Man was a gardener, commanded to have dominion over the land. Actually going outside is a good first step, then, to remembering what we were created to be.

    Last Child in the Woods
    by Richard Louv

    Now, this isn’t a Christian book, so I didn’t really expect these to be the reasons the author, Richard Louv, is interested in the outdoors. I expected that he’d point out what I’d consider to be secondary benefits. What I didn’t expect was that he’d emphasize children going into nature alone, that they might have freedom from the interference of their parents.

    Now, before you think he’s trying to divide children from parents, I don’t think that is the point. I think he means that children used to be able to wander around and enjoy solitude. They could think without someone interrupting them. If there is one thing that distinguishes between a true Helicopter Parent and one that is simply protective, it is that aspect of interrupting.

    Do you remember what Charlotte Mason said about true play?

    But organised games are not play in the sense we have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make. They must be content to know that they do not understand, and, what is more, that they carry with them a chill breath of reality which sweeps away illusions. Think what it must mean to a general in command of his forces to be told by some intruder into the play-world to tie his shoe-strings!

    It seems to me that learning to conduct ourselves with what our friend Charlotte called “masterly inactivity”–where we wisely let our children alone, not interrupting their play–does not require nature. I’m not saying there isn’t something to the idea of being literally alone, but I do think that perhaps Louv is seeing this need because parents are often oppressively involved in their children’s lives these days, micromanaging Johnny’s every spare minute.

    Just a thought I had, anyway.

    I’ll post some quotes soon.

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  • Reply Jennie September 21, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Brandy, have you ever read Joel Salatin? He said his kids once disappeared into the woods for the better part of 48 hours, only to come find him so he could walk through their Robinson Crusoe fort. Love it πŸ™‚

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      Jennie, I’ve read some Salatin, but not all. Which book is that in? So cute!

      I wish we had woods to build a fort in. Unfortunately for my children, their attempts at forts are often destroyed by goats either jumping on them or eating them! I guess that is a little nature in its own way. πŸ˜‰

      I will say that when we were walking the bike path this summer a bobcat came out in the open for a short while. That felt dangerous and exciting, like I was a child again. πŸ™‚

      There is a section in this book on the War Against Forts–apparently certain cities and neighborhoods have decided they are dangerous, a liability, an eyesore, or what have you, and they are actually forcing families to tear them down. It is so sad!

  • Reply Erin September 21, 2012 at 6:50 am

    I’ve read the book and LOVE it!!!

  • Reply Kansas Mom September 20, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    I still have problems with my little ones outside. My two year old will pick up anything – spiders and snakes included. Plus we have poison ivy in the woods on our property. So out of our 7 1/3 acres, the kids are still a little limited in what we do. But the only landscaping is the garden. The whole front area is grasses and wildflowers, so that’s fair game as long as I’m there to make sure they don’t get too close to the highway.

    Journals are a battle and I tend not to push them, but I always feel like I should.

  • Reply Mystie September 20, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    I think masterly inactivity is good indoors, but outdoor masterly inactivity involves exploring, which is completely different from indoor play. There was wild “railroad land” behind the house I grew up in and we explored and made forts for hours unsupervised.

    The best we can do now is not have our acre off-limits to exploring and tinkering (which means the landscaping is fairly destroyed…we’ll fix it up in 6 or 7 years again) and now that the oldest are 7 & 9, I try to choose bigger parks with open space (there’s lots of open space places in our area – no woods here) and let the bigger boys roam within set wide boundaries. I try to remember to bring a whistle so I don’t have to yell for them, but I usually forget.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 20, 2012 at 11:35 pm

      Good points!

      We only have half and acre, but we’ve kept it wild. I’ve considered before how nice it would be to have it “perfectly” landscaped, but it really would put unnecessary boundaries on the children. If we invested in nice plants, rather than the wild flowers we grow now, I’d be too tempted to protect them!

      I really would like to have 3-5 acres someday, but I don’t see that happening…

  • Reply Kansas Mom September 20, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    On a related note, I meant to share this article with you earlier:

    Kansas Dad took the kids for a nature walk a few days after reading this and was chagrined to hear himself saying many of the things frowned upon in it.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 20, 2012 at 10:55 pm

      *That* is a very good article! Lots to chew on there.

      It is inevitable that we will take our children places where there are lots of rules because that is the way a lot of these “nature” places are these days–they think everything is a part of nature but people! I do think, however, that keeping a nature journal would help. It’s a way to learn to sit and look for a long while without being intrusive, and it is still “active.”

      Obviously, getting to romp and roam and build forts is ideal, but I think the journal can help when that isn’t possible.

      I struggle with letting my children roam where they can because I am so used to there being so many rules that I feel like we’re breaking them when we aren’t. Louv actually mentions this phenomenon in his book!

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