Kids - Get Outside
By Lisa Doran N.D, May 2007.
I have a very funny story to share with you to begin this discussion.
My kids study violin at the conservatory with a lovely lovely teacher
who we've been with for years and who I enjoy very much because
she is very British and rather straightlaced but also very quirky,
the endearing way only the British can do. This week we were wrapping
up our lessons for the summer and our teacher asked us what we were
doing for our holidays and I vaguely mentioned visiting grandmas
and maybe some camping. She exhorted me to be sure the children
practiced each and every day of the summer so they would maintain
their skills and then she related to me the story of another one
of her students. How the parents were teachers and how on the last
day of school they would just take off for the summer up north to
their cottage. Our teacher continued on, utterly horrified, that
these children were simply allowed to run around wild in the bush
all summer, not made to practice or read or study in any form. I
didn't tell her that sounded like heaven to me.
I have to confess openly that my children, too, turn into wild children
in the summer. We try to spend as much time as is possible at grandmas
house, on the beach, in the water, in the canoe or in a tent. Its
wonderful. The children come in tired and happy every night. They
eat healthy dinners, they sleep well and they wake up early to do
it all again. We don't have a tv or computer camping or at grandmas.
We are media free.
I've noticed that the children change during summers spent like
this. They unfold and relax, they use their imaginations more, they
talk more, dream more, play more. They fight less, resolve their
conflicts better and are kinder to one another. The outside is good
for our kids and they don't get enough of it.
In todays world where we need to be vigilant as parents to keep
our kids safe, where children are not granted the freedom I was
granted at nine years old, our kids are not getting to experience
the outdoors and participate in activities that assist their growth
and development. If our kids are outdoors, its most usually at a
public park or play structure, where the grass is mowed, the surfaces
are relatively even and the environment is predictable.
There is some interesting writing happening today about what is
being coined "Nature Deficiency Disorder" by many child
development authors. These authors theorize that when our kids don't
get the time in nature that for eons children have had access to
they are missing something crucial in their development that is
impossible to obtain by the types of media that are replacing outdoor
play activities such as television, computer and handheld gaming
consoles. They are missing that three dimensional sensory experience
that is simply not available indoors.
The natural world is fascinating to children. Bugs, birds, snakes,
little animals. The stars, even the weather and how things change
and grow so rapidly from season to season is fascinating to children.
The world changes with the first snowfall. All of the experiences
in nature are of a sensory type and therefore are very helpful in
the rapidly developing neurological systems of our children. The
hiking path is uneven and requires balance and attention and appropriate
motor planning. The bird flies overhead and our eyes and ears need
to be able to track it flying overhead. The sand is gritty, the
mud is mooshy, the wind is cold. Rolling down the tobogganing hill
stimulates the vestibular apparatus and assists the development
of balance and the ability to sit still in a seat in a classroom.
Jumping, lifting, running all stimulate the proprioceptive neurons
in the large joints and allow the child to learn important skills
like planning how to complete complex movements. Fitness is encouraged
with outdoor activities as simple as walking. Not only are these
aspects important to the children in terms of brain development
and fitness, but the establishment of a relationship and comfort
with the outdoors is important as well. The outdoors is a key aspect
of any stress management program, for adults as well as children.
Modelling for our children today that when we are tired and stressed
and the world seems overwhelming we go for a walk or sit under a
favourite tree is a wonderful lesson. You will soon find your own
teenagers, frustrated with something that happened at school declare
"I need to go for a walk", and when they return they are
calmer and more centered.
I encourage you to get outside with your kids. Get into the wild
with your kids - let them be wild kids, bush babies this summer.
Watch their reaction and note the reaction you have within yourself
to spending more time outside. Plan to go on an adventure exploring
at least once a week. I would love to invite all of you to send
me an email and let me know your favourite places to get outside.
I'll post them and let you all read the responses next month - it
might give you some good ideas for planning family summer time adventures.
For more information and ideas I recommend the book ""Last
Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder"
by Richard Louv
Here are more links to recent articles about Nature Deficit Disorder
Interview with Richard Louv
Post Gazaette Article
Hugger Article about NDD