Last Child in the Woods

I had a lovely conversation with some good friends over a picnic in the park recently.

(That alone, my friends, is a sign of how much better I feel these days!)

We talked a lot about our philosophies of parenting, our challenging children, and how we often feel that we fall short of our ideals.

One of the things I shared is my disconnect between my view of childhood as a time of exploration, of trying things and succeeding or failing, and then trying again, and of simply mucking around in the backyard on a summer afternoon with the supervised, guided, and guarded reality that is childhood in a metropolitan area today. As R. said during our conversation, we’re simply too scheduled these days, and it’s a pity.

I consider myself a good mom, but I don’t have the kids in camp, in swim lessons, in gymboree, AND in music class this summer. I just don’t. Widget does go to preschool for a few hours a week. We have playgroup on Wednesdays, and we get together with friends to go to a local museum or park another time or two each week.

Other than that, we muck around in the back yard, we play in the sprinkler, we run little cars around the track, we dig in the dirt, we float boats down the stream, and we explore the forest. We love nature.

A book that I’ve been carrying around for some time now (not because it’s long, but because it’s filled with good information and thought-provoking discussion) is Richard Louv‘s Last Child in the Woods.  I first became aware of this book when it was mentioned a couple years ago in a Washington Post article about nature-deficit disorder.  Leery of labels, I was dubious. . . but my reticence was quickly overcome.  The more I read, the more I felt justified in my enforcing of no-TV afternoons.  Of wandering about looking for something to do.  Of planting, and weeding, and harvesting blackberries in the back yard and memories surrounded by nature.

Because children need nature.  They need to be able to relax, to enjoy, and to come up with things to do all by themselves.  It’s part of learning to master one’s emotions, and discover a sense of self.  And a thousand other things.  Go on, read the book.  You’ll see.

But may I recommend reading it outside, on the hammock, while the children play?

The author received a paperback review copy of the updated and expanded edition of Last Child in the Woods.

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