Tag Archives: nature deficit disorder

Idea of the Week: Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There

I’m not a free-range parent per se, but I like a lot of the ideas put forth by American mom Lenore Skenazy in her book Free-Range Kids. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing her twice — once for a piece I wrote for the Calgary Herald about safe neighbourhoods, and again for a feature I wrote for Avenue magazine about the free-range philosophy, running in an upcoming issue.

Skenazy is a bastion of common sense. And spunk. I like her. So, when she e-mailed me yesterday morning to let me know that Saturday is Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day, I thought, this is a holiday I can get behind.

Playing "Leaf Monster" = fun!

Kids love playing outside, so take them to the park and leave them there.

The premise behind the 4th annual event, spearheaded by Skenazy, is simple: Our children are much more sedentary than generations past and childhood diabetes and obesity are on the rise. The antidote is turning them loose in nature and outdoor play spaces, an idea supported by a whack of studies that show how kids benefit from time outdoors. If you think parks and playgrounds aren’t safe, says Skenazy, think again — evidently, more children go to hospital from falling out of bed than from falling out of a tree.

But Skenazy doesn’t just want you to take your kids to the local playground. If they’re seven or eight or older she wants you to leave them there unsupervised, for a half hour or for the afternoon. Part of the free-range philosophy says that children need time for free play unsupervised by adults. It may sound a little Lord of the Flies, but it’s actually good for them to negotiate games and play activities on their own without adult intervention — this kind of collaborative play with peers hones decision making skills and spurs creativity. If you’re still feeling anxious, remember they won’t be alone — they’ll be with other kids and perhaps even the parents of children too young to be left at the park.

Avery just turned eight and she’s been walking our puppy by herself in the field across from our house. Maybe she’s ready for some play time away from me at the local playground…with some friends, of course. What do you think? Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day — yea or nay? 

Let them chase frogs (and get muddy!)

With temperatures returning to seasonal highs this week, it seems this past weekend may have been summer’s last hurrah. Time to reflect on an amazing three months that included hiking, kayaking, canoeing, trampoline bouncing, sandcastle building, Saskatoon berry picking and lots of swimming.

Getting muddy feet at the lake = fun!

What my summer didn’t include? Crafts of any sort (kill me now), mall visits or time in the basement watching movies when it was beautiful outside. After spending 10 days in Fernie, B.C. (during which time I missed Calgary not at all), I came to realize I am a nature-mama. I want my kids outside exploring the great outdoors and catching butterflies, discovering beaver trails and finding pretty-coloured rocks.

My kids are drawn to water and Avery has no problem tracking down (and capturing) lake denizens. It’s awesome! Note: dirty fingernails means she’s having fun.

A recent Motherlode blog in the New York Times talked about how spending time outdoors climbing trees not only teaches kids their own physical boundaries, it builds their confidence. It reminded me of all the hoopla several years ago surrounding “nature deficit disorder.” Remember that? The media was full of stories about how this generation of children is spending too much time inside playing video games instead of playing street hockey or jumping in puddles after a rainstorm. They hypothesized the phenomenon was creating a bunch of fat, socially mal-adjusted kids who couldn’t tell the difference between a robin and a rooster. The upshot? Nature is a great, free source of active fun that helps kids grow.

Playing “Leaf Monster” = fun!

Taken together, these two ideas — encouraging my kids to get a daily dose of nature while at the same time letting them (or, ahem, gently pushing them) to take risks and step outside of their comfort zone — have somewhat shaped my parenting philosophy. But still, I have to remind myself to stop saying, “Be careful!” every time Avery goes out on a limb. And I have to willfully ignore Bennett’s repeated requests for “Help!” when he’s navigating a hiking trail — nine times out of 10 he can manage on his own and is super proud of himself afterwards: “I did it all by myself, Mommy!” I also turn a blind eye to the dirty feet, grass-stained clothes and mud-wedged fingernails (difficult, but not impossible), and try to remind myself that dirt is good for my kids, even if it’s bad for my floors. Really.

I’m sad the days are getting shorter and the temperatures cooler, making it less inviting to go outside and play. But I welcome winter and a new season of challenges and adventures: ice skating on a frozen pond, skiing down a snow-covered mountain and lots of sledding. Bring it on!