“My first memories are of meadows…”-Renee Askin, Shadow Mountain
I’m sure most of us can remember playing out in the yard in our childhood: games of tag, hide-and-go-seek, “mother may I?”, and best of all the games that we invented ourselves. Those experiences playing outside in the front yard have carried on with me into adulthood, and I believe they ultimately shaped me into the person I have become. The present day concern over children’s lack of interaction with the natural world is a very real one. Studies continue to show the adverse affects on a child’s education and creative thinking skills when they are separated from nature.
When children are allowed to play outside and explore the natural world they are using their minds and tapping into their own creativity. Outdoor play allows a child to question, and curiosity fosters critical thinking skills. Penny Wilson, a consultant on play projects, believes that play is an essential part of childhood because it “allows children to work out their emotions. When you’re playing you’re finding out about who you are.”
Additionally, children build upon their social skills when they play with others, inventing new games and discovering secret treasures. I distinctly remember my cousins and I playing inside a tree that became our make-believe house. The tall yellow bushes on the edge of our property became a secret cave that we crawled through on hands and knees. Once, we found an old, rusty key in the cool, damp soil. Where had the key come from? Whose was it? What did it unlock? Oh, the possibilities were endless and our minds went wild!
It is experiences like those that children, I believe, are missing out on today. What is especially disturbing is the fact that some schools are eliminating recess altogether. I also work as a substitute teacher and have had the chance to work in a variety of school settings. In one district, outdoor recess is non-existent. Their idea of recess is having the students watch a movie for twenty to thirty minutes. Unfortunately, for some children their only experience with the outdoors will be in a school setting, so if that chance is taken away, what do they have?
Richard Louv’s book Last Child In The Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder is a fascinating look at how our children are growing up totally isolated from nature, and the negative impact that has not only on them, but on our world as a whole. One quote that resonated with me from the reading was from a fourth-grader in San Diego who said: “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” How sad that a child should feel that way when the outdoors has so much to offer. But we can’t blame the children, can we? It is the world that has changed everyone. Even Louv’s own children felt like they missed out on something, when they asked: “Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?” He writes: “Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment, but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.”
Here are some recommended reads from OWL relating to the outdoors, some of which might give you some ideas for outdoor games!
Ranger Rick is an awesome publication for children by the National Wildlife Federation. They have fun stories, games, and facts relating to nature and wildlife. Check out the March 2011 issue which has a great article about Moon Watching, and has a Moon Journal activity that helps children track the phases of the moon (part of the Be Out There program by NWF). As the nights get warmer, you and your child can track the phases of the moon together.
How To Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers is a great book new to OWL’s collection. The book explores the many benefits of having a school garden, and goes through all the planning, funding, designing and planting techniques needed. There is also a section with related activities and lesson plans. School gardens (even classroom gardens) are a fabulous way to connect the school community and get children involved with nature. They also facilitate critical thinking and foster a working knowledge of where our food comes from (so important in today’s world of fast-food and grocery store conveniences).
The Sierra Club Summer Book has fun and creative ideas for outdoor play, eco-crafts, animal facts and nature discussions. Summer truly is the best time to get out and explore. I liked the sections on how to grow peanuts, make a hummingbird cocktail, summer survival skills, and a fun trick on how to see the earth move by staring at a star!
Willy Whitefeather’s Outdoor Survival Handbook for Kids contains everything your child needs to know about surviving in the wilderness. A nice companion for a family camping trip or vacation. I find that these “survival” books for kids always grab their attention because somehow the thought of being lost out in the wilderness is still appealing.
Bird Watcher gets your little ones started on becoming an expert “birder.” This little book is chock full of information about birds, and has many great activities that help children learn about them. One of my favorites is the “Bird Buffet” which consists of various bowls of food that birds eat. Children can observe which birds like which types of foods best.
Set up a bird feeder outside to help pique children’s curiosity about our feathered friends. Check out the book Invite a Bird to Dinner: Simple Feeders You Can Make to learn how to make a home-made feeder with your child. I also highly recommend the new Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America. It is a treasure trove of colored photographs and information pertaining to thousands of bird species. But best of all it comes with a downloadable CD with over 600 bird sounds, 150 sounds of North American species, as well as photographs of the birds that you can transfer to your computer or iPod. With this guide, children can hear the sounds of birds that they identify!
The Winter 2011 issue of Connecticut Woodlands magazine has an article relating to the issue of children’s isolation from nature. This is a great magazine published by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and features many articles relating to conservation, the environment, gardening, and farming.
In 2006, Connecticut established the “No Child Left Inside” initiative-helping children to get outside and explore in Connecticut’s State Parks. Learn more about the educational programs they offer at their website.
Be sure to check out OWL’s CT State Parks Pass, or the many others we have including the Children’s Museum and Roaring Brook Nature Center, and Earthplace: The Nature Discovery Center. The passes may be checked out for a three day period.
“Nature–the sublime, the harsh, and the beautiful–offers something that the street or gated community or computer game cannot…without that experience, we forget our place; we forget that larger fabric on which our lives depend”–Richard Louv
So, go outside! Play ball, ride a bike, take a hike near your home, go fishing, or discover your own backyard with your children and help them re-connect with nature…you may even find yourself re-connecting with your own childhood, and nature, as well 🙂
Sarai is the Publicity Coordinator/Library Assistant who still enjoys the occasional romp around the front yard, and believes that technology may play a part in nature deficit disorder.