Some photos from the beautiful Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, home to gorgeous woodlands, fields, and marshes that feel a 100-miles away from the city.
Author: Scott D. Sampson
Title: How To Raise a Wild Child
Publication Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Dr. Scott of Dinosaur Train fame wrote this book about how parents and other concerned adults can inspire children to “Get up, get outside, and get into nature.” This grew from the concern over the increasing disconnect of children from nature – known as “nature deficit disorder” – that has negative consequences both for children’s development and for the environment. Sampson writes of his philosophy and gives tips on how parents can share their love of nature, mentor them, and help them tell their own stories. It’s a great book, probably worth a reread to distill the advice to practical everyday use.
“Our present dysfunctional worldview is founded on an erroneous perception: the existence of humanity outside nature. Despite the fact that nature provides the raw materials for our economy and that we clearly live on a finite planet, economists continue to regard the natural world as a subset of the economy, and speak of limitless growth. Yet the opposite is clearly true: our economy is a part of nature, as evidenced by the dramatic economic effects caused by topping ecological limits. A second, closely related perception is human dominion over the natural world. Seeing ourselves as external and superior to nature, we feel entitled to exploit natural “resources” at will. Adrift in a sea of objects, we’re left without any meaningful home, let alone a desire to protect and nurture the places we live.”
“In this book, my use of the term wild child refers to something entirely different—a child sharing deep connections with nature and people. Both kinds of connections are literally impossible without healthy mentoring from adults. We are social beings and, as we’ll see, connections with the natural world are strongest when a youngster has multiple mentors. Nature connection thrives alongside people connection.”
“Among mammals, only the Norwegian rat even approaches the global range of humans, co-occurring with us on every continent except Antarctica (though, it must be added, rats accomplished this feat by hitching a ride on our ships).”
“When many people think about helping children to connect with nature, they imagine themselves striding purposefully out into the wild, child in tow, to teach the youngster how to chop wood or use a GPS or go fishing or whatever. Certainly some elements of mentoring entail exactly this kind of one-on-one instruction. But the vast majority of the time, it’s best to follow the child’s lead. Kids of every age have innate longings that manifest themselves outdoors. Your job is to determine what those longings are and feed them. So, difficult though it may be, the better option most of the time is to push gently from behind rather than to pull from in front. Take your cue from the original Mentor, guiding from the back of the boat. Your reward will be watching the child’s eyes light up with curiosity, propelling him to the next mystery.”
“In the end, nature mentors take on three distinct roles. First is the Teacher, the person who conveys information. Second is the Questioner, the one always seeking to ask that next query to pique curiosity and engagement. Third is the Trickster, the clever Coyote who hides in plain sight, able to leverage a child’s longings to stretch edges. The most effective mentors limit their role as Teacher, focusing instead on embodying both Questioner and Trickster. The great news here is that you don’t need to be an expert. The bad news is that you’ll often need to stifle the urge to offer answers and think instead about how you can extend the learning experience with a provocative question.”
“But here’s the most important thing. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will spark your child’s passion for nature more than your own embodied passion for the natural world.”
“So if we continually exchange matter with the outside world and if each of us is a walking colony of trillions of largely symbiotic life forms, exactly what is this self that we view as separate? You’re more bipedal colony or superorganism than isolated being. Metaphorically, to follow current bias and think of your body as a machine is not only inaccurate but destructive. Each of us is far more akin to a whirlpool, a brief, ever-shifting concentration of energy in a vast river that’s been flowing for billions of years. You’re not merely connected to nature through the web of life. You’re interwoven with it, living in constant exchange with the natural world through your skin, your breath, your food, and the countless microbes on and in your body.”
“Consider this thought experiment. If you were tasked with designing the ideal learning environment for children, do you think you would ultimately opt for four-walled rooms where students are required to sit quietly for long periods, ingest streams of facts in one-hour gulps, and endure incessant testing in hopes of receiving good grades? Whatever your answer, I’m quite certain that few kids would vote for such a system.”
“In contrast to the careerism (“learn to earn”) model of schooling currently dominant, place-based education is grounded in values such as community, sustainability, and beauty—promoting exactly the kind of radical shift required if we are to renew the human-nature bond and preserve a viable planetary ecology and economy. Innovative educators have shown again and again that local surroundings provide an engaging context to communicate virtually any topic, from history and math to reading and science.”
“One of Sobel’s mantras is “No tragedies before fourth grade.” Too often we teach young children about climate change, species extinctions, and vanishing habitats before they’ve even had a chance to connect with the natural world. Rather than engagement, the result is often alienation, with children feeling a great sense of loss and pessimism about the future. So, before we burden kids with the crises of our time, let them establish a bond with nature. Once they care, protection will follow.”
“Seek out stories from the lore of indigenous peoples native to where you live. These tales are frequently grounded in local nature: plants, animals, and landforms. They often convey memorable narratives of how particular animals got their names, of plants used for medicinal purposes, and of places held sacred. And they typically embody a spirit of deep nature connection, with humans fully embedded in the web of life. One example is North American Indian Tales, by W. T. Larned. Think about using stories like these as an entry point to understanding the native peoples that lived in your region prior to the arrival of Europeans.”
“Several years ago, I received a phone call from an executive at the Hollywood-based Jim Henson Company. She told me that they were creating a new educational television series aimed at preschoolers, with dinosaurs as the main hook, and she asked if I’d like to get involved. The ensuing conversation went something like this: “What’s it going to be called?” I asked. “Dinosaur Train,” she replied. “What?” I stammered. “You can’t call it that.” “Why not?” she asked calmly. “Because dinosaur paleontologists like me have to remind people regularly that humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time. Sticking them together on a train just perpetuates the myth.” “No problem,” she said. “We’re only going to put dinosaurs on the train.” I paused, took a deep breath, and blurted out, “Well, that’s just brilliant.”
Recommended books: Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids by Rebecca Cohen, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv, Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy
Author: Rebecca P. Cohen
Title: Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids
Publication Info: Sourcebooks (2011)
This book exists because parent Rebecca Cohen asked herself: “What if I got outside every single day, and what if I could get my kids to come along? It would be easier to pull this off in the middle of summer, but what if we did it all year round, no matter what the weather was like?”
This book provides a different activity for children and parents to do outdoors for each day of the year. The book presumes one has a large yard and a mild climate (the author lives in Virginia), so one may have to adapt a few things to one’s own circumstances. Cohen is also really into gardening so probably about a quarter of the suggestion have to do with planting, weeding, and harvesting vegetables. Nevertheless, this book is chock full of creative suggestions to make spending time outdoors a fun daily activity varying by season. As a parent, it’s good to have a reference to help get started because sometimes you just can’t think of a convincing reason to go outside, especially when it’s too cold or too hot.
I listed some of my favorite suggestions below. One may also download “50 Outdoor Activities for Busy Families” from Cohen’s website (email required).
Cohen also provides a number of websites to go to for more ideas:
“While your kids are outside enjoying sunshine and physical exercise, why not have them exercise their imaginations as well? Encourage them to climb a hill and pretend it’s Mount Everest, build a fort with tree branches, or prepare a pretend feast using leaves as plates and wild berries as the main course. Ask them about stories they are reading at school and at home, and join them in acting out their favorite parts. Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series is perfect for this, but there are hundreds—even thousands—of great children’s books (and movies and even video games) to draw on. Folk tales like “The Three Little Pigs,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” and “The Gingerbread Man,” or children’s favorite board books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury are a great place to start.”
“Close your eyes and have your child lead you to a tree. Use your senses—touch, smell, and hearing—to learn all you can about your tree. The bark will have its own texture, tiny buds may be forming on branches, and the trunk will be easy or hard to get your arms around. With your eyes still closed, have your child lead you back to where you started. Open your eyes and try to find your tree. Now it’s your child’s turn!”
“A female entrepreneur once told me that when she was a kid, her mom would tell her to sit under a small tree and have small thoughts, and then sit under a big tree and think big thoughts. Try it with your kids, and have fun discovering what each of you thinks about.”
“Some days are so dreary, you find yourself wishing for even a little brightness and beauty. Trust me, even in February, it’s out there—but sometimes your family has to work together to find it. Bring in everyone’s perspectives and head out to find something that is beautiful. Each person’s job is to look until they find something in nature that they like and to share why.”
“Red-tailed hawks mate in March and April and usually make their nests in the tallest trees, and they might even take over a nest that a great horned owl used in January and February. I learned this tip from David Mizejewski, naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. And sure enough, for several days in March I heard loud and unusual birdcalls. When I looked up, there were hawks locking talons in flight. Find out from your local nature center when to look for hawks.”
“As the leaves fill the trees, it may not be as obvious that there are large sections or large branches that have fallen from trees. As you walk, notice fallen branches; see if your child (perhaps with your help) can find which tree a specific branch fell from by looking.”
“A cousin in France once said that she did a sociology experiment in college and asked people to purposefully look up and around for a day. What she found was that it not only opened people’s perspective to the physical beauty around them, but also to a more psychological openness of possibilities. Take this idea into play with your child when you walk outside and start looking at what is above your eye level, and take turns pointing out what you see.”
“This one is adapted from a tennis camp game, and it works whether you have two people or ten. The “coach” throws a tennis ball across an imaginary line to each person standing and lined up in a row facing the coach. If you do not catch the ball each time the coach throws it to you, you lose a limb (e.g., put an arm behind your back, then stand on one foot or sit down, until finally you have no limbs left and are out). The last person left wins and becomes the coach.”
“Pick a day every week to go out to the same spot with a notepad and pencil and write about or draw the changes you notice that are taking place in nature. Or keep a notepad and colored pencils in the car for your child to sketch the changing landscape as you travel around. Have them present their art to you, and write down their story beside their art if they can’t do it themselves.”
Recommended books: Get Out!: 150 Easy Ways for Kids & Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland
Author: Henry David Thoureau
Title: Cape Cod
Publication Info: New York, NY : Penguin Books, 1987 [originally published in 1865]
This book collects essays Thoreau wrote on several trips to Cape Cod and was published after his death. Thoreau’s great journeys were rarely far from his home in Concord, and yet the descriptions of every day detail are as if he’d traveled around the world. No more so than his writing about Cape Cod which after a century and a half of time passed sounds like it could’ve been a journey to Mars. The writing is beautiful whether he’s describing a shipwreck, beachcombing, or the people who populate the sand-covered villages.
Author: Judy Molland
Title: Get Out!: 150 Easy Ways for Kids & Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland
Publication Info: Minneapolis, MN : Free Spirit Pub., 2009.
Summary/Review: This book is a short reference book with a list of 150 suggestions of what children and families can do to experience nature and participate in environmental conservation. I was a bit disappointed that the book is literally a list with just a few paragraphs per item and that it is less about “what kids can do outdoors” than “things you can do to save the Earth.” Not that that is a bad thing, it’s just there are many other books on that topic. Still, this could be a good reference to keep on hand for parenting ideas regarding nature and the environment.