August 11, 2011
By Swinging On Small Hinges
Being married to a doctor means that our house is always overflowing with medical journals, magazines and pamphlets. Most of the medical terminology is way over my head and I typically ignore the magazines as they float around the house, but one afternoon an article in particular caught my eye. It was a news release from the American Academy of Pediatrics, dated October 2009. It read, "Children can more easily identify obscure cartoon characters than the native plants and animals that live outside their front door. And this lack of connection to the natural world can have a profound impact on their health and well-being." Richard Louv, the author who coined the phrase, “nature-deficit disorder" discussed the relationships between nature and children and how society is unintentionally discouraging direct nature experience. Easy access to television, video games, smart phones, and iPods coupled with busy lifestyles encourage children and parents to shun the outdoors. The news release continued, "A growing body of scientific evidence shows just how important direct contact with the outdoors is to healthy child development...this has implications for a wide range of health issues, including ADHD, child obesity, stress, creativity and cognitive functioning.”
When I read this article I immediately felt guilt. Did I do that? Yes, I was guilty of keeping my kids indoors. It was easier, I reasoned, to just keep them inside than to go outside and deal with the dirt, bugs and heat. It was easier, I reasoned, to keep them inside than to worry about stranger-danger, unknown neighborhood dogs, or inattentive drivers. It was easier to keep my kids inside where my house was childproof and there would be no skinned knees, or potential falls out of trees, or the possible bee or wasp sting. It was easier...but it wasn't better. In my attempts to keep my kids safe (and clean) I was stunting their ability to grow both physically and spiritually. Cultivating wonder about nature heightens our appreciation for all of God's creations and I needed to let my kids get dirty in order to fully cherish their stewardship on the Earth.
Yes, learning to let go has been a challenge for me (I'm all Type A personality) but I have found a couple of really easy ways to help the whole family get closer to nature and each other.
Using A Butterfly Net: I also found one at the dollar store. Don't let it's name fool you...you'd be surprised at what kinds of critters you can catch in a butterfly net!
Playing With Sand toys: A small pail and shovel for digging allow kids to learn about what kind of nature they find underground! Catching wiggely worms bring endless squeals and giggles to my daughter.
Keeping A Nature Journal: We love our nature journal! I read about nature journaling in The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola. Using a simple notebook, journaling what they see is a way to help kids get in touch with the outdoors. It is really easy and my 5 year old finds some of the most interesting things to journal about. A piece of tree bark, spiders, butterflies, leaves, feathers, flowers, frogs, crickets, moths, rocks, fossils, nuts, and the list just goes on and on. When I stepped back and let her just explore our yard I was amazed at what she found interesting each day and watching her excitement I quickly remembered what it was like to examine nature for the 1st time. We use a simple Mead journal composition book. Since my daughter is not a fan of sketching we take a picture of many of the things we see, print them out and glue them into her book. Writing about her experience encourages her to examine what she found more closely.
We live in a world that is fast paced and hectic. Kids need the time to slow down and feel the warm wind move through their hair and feel the hot sun on their faces. They need to hear the chirp of crickets, the tweet of birds and the croaking of frogs. Watching my daughter delight in nature brings my heart such joy!
Stephanie has been married to her wonderful husband James for 9 years. They are parents to 2 special blessings through the miracle of adoption. Kayley, age 5 and Maggie, age 1. This is her second year "officially" homeschooling although her Father always taught her that "every day is a day at school." You can visit her family at Swinging On Small Hinges.