S.E. Livingston: The latest rage in child rearing is...The unstructured freedom of outdoor play is exceedingly valuable to our children.
By: S.E. Livingston, Budgeteer News
We’ve been busy this month with summer school. Oh, it’s not what you think: We’ve been working on what author and education professor Howard Gardner terms the “Eighth Intelligence,” or nature smarts.
Yesterday I left 5-year-old Annie out in the woods. We hiked down a little trail about 100 yards from our house. She set up her Scooby-Doo camp chair, put a cardboard box on her knees and pulled out her pen and notebook. As we walked, I explained to her that she needed patience to accomplish her goal.
“I know, Mom,” she said. “I know it takes a lot of hard, hard, hard, hard work to catch a baby rabbit, but I really want to do this!”
I walked back toward home and took one last glimpse of Annie. She was settled in her chair, face set toward the woods and pen poised over her notebook. Her plan was to catch a baby rabbit, put it in a cardboard box and take notes on its activity. She promised me that she would let it go when she was done. I wished her well.
When I got back to the house, I met Will coming out. He had a slingshot in hand. “Oh, Will, you’re just the guy I was looking for. Annie is down the trail waiting to catch a baby rabbit and she needs your help.” Then I paused, “Will, what’s the slingshot for?”
“If the cat comes around (our family pet is a baby-rabbit murderer), then I’m going to let her have it!” he said. Because I have had to clean up after that cat’s indiscretions I didn’t stop him.
I was pleased about Annie choosing to spend some time by herself in nature. Nature is a classroom, and a very efficient one at that. As I looked out the kitchen window, I dreamed about how this time outside would ignite a passion for natural learning in Annie. But then I turned around and there she was, right behind me.
“I thought you were going to use a lot of patience on this bunny catching thing,” I said.
“Well, I wanted to,” she said, “but it’s too scary.”
(Note to self: Spend more time with Annie just sitting outside in the field.)
I wasn’t sure what happened to the protector armed with a slingshot, but, when I went out to investigate, I found him in our neighbors’ yard. He was scouting a position for a new fort. Vulnerable small sister forgotten, he couldn’t wait to show me the plan. He then got up the nerve to knock on the neighbors’ door and ask if he could build under their tree. Our neighbors are young single men who 1) don’t view their yard as a showpiece and 2) must remember what it’s like to be a 10-year-old boy with a dream. They said yes.
Will then spent the next morning combing our lot for scrap wood, carrying it to the neighbors’ and nailing and hammering.
I didn’t see him or Danny until lunch. They came in for food and disappeared again. The industry and vision eradicated all sibling squabbles and complaints.
Our neighbors now have a, um, lovely three-sided structure made out of particle board and warped plywood, covered by a tarp sitting in a corner of their yard. (OK, it’s an eyesore.) But, if you were a 10-year-old boy — or even a 20-year-old boy — you wouldn’t see it that way; you would see a tree-hidden fort, with camouflage cover, floor, gun turrets and a secret door you have to crawl to use.
“Last Child in the Woods” author Richard Louv elaborates how valuable the unstructured freedom of outdoor play is to our children. His research details how children who spend time simply playing outside, expanding their boundaries, freely following dreams and imaginings are quicker to psychologically balance themselves as adults. That’s what I want for my kids.
If you are keeping up with your reading on education, you will find that learning via technology is becoming a thing of the past ... so 20th century! The research is finding that unstructured play time outside, deep connections rooted in familial love and exposure to lots and lots of good books are more effective than any LeapFrog system you can buy.
Contact S.E. Livingston at email@example.com.