I recently came across a quote that has echoed in my mind since I heard it. It fills me with fear and the strong desire to change the future, which I know is impossible on my own- but I can teach Odin differently.
“Many children today find it easier to stay indoors and watch television. I worry that children do not know what they are missing. Children cannot love what they do not know. They cannot miss what they have not experienced.”
~Mary Pipher, The Shelter of Each Other
Imagine that. Imagine a childhood spent inside, without foraging for pinecones, feathers, and beautiful stones. Many of my childhood treasures that have remained with me throughout the years are the found ones- a shark’s tooth found on the beach the same day we found a giant live sand dollar, a collection of natural stones, a few brightly colored feathers, a skeleton of a leaf from a vacationed Autumn, a smooth piece of sea glass. I don’t have my trading cards or other toys anymore, they weren’t important enough to keep with me through the years. I have fond memories of the Earth and am able to feel empathy towards her because of those memories. A child cannot love the Earth if he does not know it. I see children now spending more time indoors than outside of them. Many times we visit the playground and it’s vacant. I’ve watched small children that sit on the couch with a video game in their hands, while the television plays and fills the room with loud voices and flashy imagery. A screen in the hand and another a few feet away, and this is how they lived every day. When I was a child, other children would be running and playing all down our street. When I visit home now, there is no one. I see the children come home from school and walk inside and there they stay. I’m sure you’ve seen the statistics, I know I’ve read a few articles on the subject in the past few years.
Parents are afraid or busy or both, but playing in nature is something that should be important. It should be scheduled into our weekly activities. I really think a child can learn more from outdoor play than any structured and supervised activity. Children used to be sent outside so parents could clean or cook and they would all play together, from all over the neighborhood friends would meet around the same time and come home when called. They had the freedom to create their own play, their own atmosphere, and to explore and learn at their own pace. I am very lucky to be able to stay home with Odin and take him out on as many walks as we can manage throughout our week. Even when Zak and I are both busy, we always manage a short walk to the beach after dinner in the Summer.
I think that because of this shift from outdoor to indoor play, our children are growing afraid. We don’t allow this generation enough time outside to really love the Earth, but as they grow we teach them about the danger our world is in and ask them to save it. How can they feel passionately about helping something they have no real connection with? Odin has just turned two and I can see the wonder in his eyes when we’re out on a walk. He looks up to the trees and notices things I miss. He observes and sees things that I don’t and then will point them out to me. A small spider camouflaged against the leaves or a bumblebee collecting pollen on a nearby blossom. We spend so much time outside and you can tell that he is already in awe of the Earth. I taught him this morning that the trees help us to breathe and provide shelter should we need it and he smiled. Every tree we passed afterwards received a loving embrace and a “thank you!” from little O. He collected fiddleheads and kept an eye out for mushrooms. He found a favorite tree, a great big knobby tree, and when he saw it he shouted “Papa Tree!” and talked to it as if it were his grandfather. He sat up in that tree for some time before we moved on.
There have been studies to show that early experiences with nature were linked to increased creativity and imagination. Outdoor time helps with problem-solving and developmental skills. Increased observation and focus are also positively linked to time in Nature. Children with ADHD have shown an increased ability to focus when given time in nature. These are all amazing things and really show how essential time outdoors is.
There are many ways to teach children about our planet, things we should teach them now to create healthy eco-friendly habits. Odin knows how to recycle and compost (for the most part). He knows to never throw trash outside, that it goes in the trash bin only. If we come across any bit of litter on our walks, he’s very quick to pick it up and tell me that it needs to go into the trash. I’ve taught him to be gentle with the bugs and creatures as well as the trees and plants. We pick flowers but we’re always sure to leave more than we take. I recently did an interview with one of my favorite mama bloggers, Kirsten Rickert about being an Earth-conscious parent. I talk a lot in the interview about raising Odin to respect our planet through small day-to-day activities. Short walks, visiting the bees, feeding the ducks and chickens, watching ants carry food bigger than themselves, and any other little outside interaction we come across.
We love to have Odin help in the kitchen when we make our meals. Exposing him to real food is so essential to me. Being able to have him harvest food from the garden, bring it inside, and turn it into a meal is an amazing learning experience. With today’s busy lifestyles, convenience often comes first. Convenience food often comes in a little too much packaging which goes into our landfills and is also often not the healthiest option. With the decreased outdoor time often comes less kitchen time, it seems. Buying, growing, or trading for raw fruits and vegetables allows our children to see where there food comes from. We make nearly all of our meals from scratch and Odin loves to identify what he’s eating while he eats it. This is just one of the many lifestyle choices that affects the Earth and we want Odin to realize it. We want him to see that if we buy foods that produce a lot of trash, that it will hurt the Earth down the road. It will directly affect the trees he shouts “I love you” to. Eating raw foods and returning the compost to the garden to grow more food is a sustainable and obvious cycle that will help our world and ourselves throughout our life. I want him to ask questions and be curious, to know what happens after the trash bin. I want him to be aware of how his actions will create reactions. I think instilling a love for the planet is the first step in teaching him to protect it.