Kids and Nature Just Go Together

May 14th, 2008

A nice day today, without rain.  Started cloudy and cool and then warmed up beautifully.  We walked to make the bus for school through the wet grass, with the yellow lab running around us.  As we waited, playing catch with a newspaper, the lab decided to find a comfortable spot in the tall grass and settle down.  He’s becoming more independent as well as comfortable with the world around him.  He was happy just to lay here in the grass and wait until the walk home.

Yellow Labrador Retriever in the grass

In many ways the seven year old is the same.  I find myself looking for opportunities that our son can use to stretch his own independence.   The boy runs around finding interesting things to play with in nature, climbing trees, riding his bicycle, collecting rocks.  When he comes home from school he loves to watch one particular cartoon, and will sit in front of the tv if allowed.  But he loves being outside as well, and comes out pretty quickly to play and follow me around.  He watches and helps me with various projects when he can.  

After the windstorm the other day, we worked together staking nine little trees.  It’s not always my nature to think of ways to involve him, but I’m getting better.  I’m a “do-it-yourselfer” most of the time, and just move from one project to another trying to keep up with things that need done.  But as our son grows I want to share knowledge and find opportunities to involve him and help him learn.

I’ve been watching an interesting show tonight on PBS about kids growing up while living closer to nature versus in a suburban environment.  Did you see it?   Paraphrasing one of the themes:

“The kids growing up over the last twenty years see nature as an abstraction. Something “out there” apart from their own lives.  And that fosters a disconnection with the natural world.”

One of the reasons I love living in the country is to be able to maintain that connection with the natural world.  To live it, touch it and be part of the changing of the seasons.   We thought it important somehow that our son have the opportunity to experience this lifestyle, while balancing the modern world’s tools of technology and communication.

What young child isn’t fascinated with tadpoles?  He loves to play by the water, and always seems to find neat stuff.

Boy finding tadpoles at the pond in spring

But that’s also the challenge in many ways.  As a society we have evolved and are continuing to change very quickly. Kids today are challenged to adapt and are faced with countless choices involving what I call technological literacy.  Certainly basic reading and math literacy is critical as a foundation, but I also believe that technological literacy is something that can empower and leverage an individual’s life and choices in a myriad of constructive ways.   I think that tech literacy must reach a point where a child recognizes the benefits as well as learns the limits of the technology they will use in life, and that it’s really just another set of tools.

Personally I have run the gamut of being an early adopting tech addict years ago, to managing thousands of the most advanced computers and communications equipment in the world, and now back to being a simple user of technology in a way that expresses creativity and helps me keep up at home.  I feel like I’ve come full circle, and have heard the same from others.  I’m still tempted by new-fangled gadgets, but weigh the cost of owning and using them not only in dollars, but also in time.  Time seems to become more precious in many ways, and I am thankful to have time to do what is necessary each day.

But I always come back to nature, or what I see as “real” with the world around us.  Perhaps as a way to find a centered place within, and a foundation of being well grounded. I fear losing the connection with nature and what is real.  Somehow the spirit of the living and the energy that exists in nature are like healing waters that a metaphorical fountain brings forth.  When we work and take part in the natural world we touch our roots, and renew the bonds of life that exists between the human species and the living world.  

So where our son is concerned, a lot of it has to do with me. I have always sought a rural lifestyle, and a chance to learn and practice basic skills of living and self sufficiency.  I like that about living here.  But at times I wonder if the boy isn’t missing out with many of the various activities that a suburban lifestyle might offer.

We do try to involve him in typical activities such as baseball and scouting.  And he has the run of ten acres of land, joining more land in the area.  But driving to town takes a few gallons of gas round trip, so it’s not something we do routinely without a reason.  There are no nearby places to go and interact with others unless we get in the car and make the trip.  So he does miss different aspects of living in society such as a suburban area with parks full of other kids.  For all those who live in this area, it’s just the way it is.

Thankfully he has a full school day and a district that believes strongly in physical activity.  They usually have three recess periods to work off excess energy (or catch up on work not quite finished).   By the time he gets home he needs a break, but is then ready to head outside and play again.

I know as he grows up he will have the opportunity to experience far more than we see here at home anyway. In that regard I’m not worried about what he may miss for a few years.  To see him run and play, discovering new critters, finding cool rocks or snail shells to collect, shouting and screaming at imaginary creatures, all are things that I believe help create a balance and ability to find a centered place within himself which he will carry for the rest of his life.

Blowing Dandelion seeds in the wind

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s where I am.  I have this sense that he needs this in his life, and that many years from now he will reflect on it and find satisfaction and strength in his experience.  Certainly all parents must make choices that they believe best for their children.  There are times in our lives that we are fortunate to have the ability to make certain choices, where others may not.  For however long we are here, I am thankful for our experience. 

4 Responses to “Kids and Nature Just Go Together”

  1. I think it makes sense. When my twin sons came home from college the first free weekend of their freshman year, they said unabashedly that we were the best parents in the world. They had lived with other people for a while and saw what kind of upbringing and home life they had, so they could finally compare their own lives to others. They found that not everyone had such a stable and “conventional” life as they had.

    I think your boy will have the same sort of experience. He will meet others who don’t have the same connection with the natural world as he does. He will find people who have shorter attention spans and weaker observational skills and less curiousity. And then he will let you know in some way what an idyllic childhood you have given him.

  2. Very well written essay. I started off life in a big city though I have very few memories of it. From the age of six until I left for college, I grew up on a rural farm. Since then, I have lived in small towns here and there so I’ve had a full mix.

    Growing up, I guess I was never envious of the town kids except for during the summer when school was out. They spent their entire summer playing around town and I working on the farm with my parents. But as I grew older, I realized how much those experiences on the farm made me a more rounded person and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I’m guessing your son just like Pablo’s kids, will thank you for it someday.

    I used to be a tech geek once upon a time too. I was writing programs back in the early 80’s on an Apple IIe and handing them out to people. Even later in college I was still at it. Then for no particular reason that I can peg, I just let technology slip me by. Now I still get the urge but can’t justify the time or money. I still don’t even have a cell phone and that makes me probably the only person on earth that doesn’t own one.

  3. So Pablo- what do you do after your children reflect that measure of their upbringing? It must be such a wonderful validation of a journey in so many ways, and yet one that never really ends. Ed- That’s awesome, and I love the thought of helping someone grow in a more well-rounded fashion. No cell phone? For me it is an indulgence, even though we often see it as a necessity. But that must be very freeing…

    Connection, curiousity, observation, learning the value of work, becoming well-rounded… I very much appreciate your words.

  4. Well, my boys also asked — in all seriousness — what we did with our lives once they had left. They could not imagine that we could keep ourselves occupied without them around to be serviced. We let them think that.

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