Last year, I read Last Child in the Woods. It’s not a disturbing child abduction tale that a friend of mine had assumed. It’s about nature deficit disorder in children. Instinctively, anyone who lives in an urban or suburban area knows there’s a problem with how disconnected we’ve become to the natural world. I’m not going to go into the dangers mentioned in the book regarding the consequences of leading an inactive, indoor life, they seem fairly obvious – obesity, depression, attention disorders, anxiety, stress, apathy towards environmental stewardship. What interested me in the book is the benefits of natural environments - woods, lakes over man made outdoor environment, like sports fields and playgrounds. As a mom this resonated with me. I hate playgrounds. I took my kids to them of course (and still do), to get a little fresh air and excercise. But to me, it’s like baby jail with all those brightly colored bars defined by a pea gravel pad. When my kids were toddlers, it was though I was the benevolent prison guard, making sure they didn’t get out of bounds, all for their protection of course, but it felt confining. Not too far from me is a big, beautiful park with forested walking trails, trees to climb, the ruins of an old 19th century school which I so much prefer to go to and where the pictures below are taken.
When my oldest was in preschool, a group of mothers and I decided to meet up at a park and discussed which one to go to. My suggestion for the big, beautiful park was shunned, ‘there’s nothing to do there’ they said. So we headed to a park with a playground that was surrounded by some forested area. We went there every week. By the second week or so, the children spent less and less time on the playground. Instead they gravitated towards a nearby stream, and eventually all the moms just set up their lawn chairs by the stream and forgot about the playground altogether. The kids were like little chimpanzees, finding sticks and poking around in the mud, turning over rocks, inventing creative games for everyone to be involved in, not just competing over who could climb the highest as they did at the playground. What astounded me is some of the parents were surprised by this, assuming playgrounds, being structured for kid fun would naturally be preferred over a bunch of rocks and sticks. Sometimes we really forget what it’s like to be a kid. This kind of example is talked about in the book. Kids need a natural environment, not an artificial outdoor one to truly explore. Their play is more egalitarian, their stress is reduced, they feel ‘connected’. What’s true for kids, I’m sure is true for adults as well. So I’m dreaming of the woods, for heading outside and just exploring, with no goal in mind, just… because.