Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No child left inside

Searching for sea crittersOne thing that's difficult to do as parents is to make sure that your kids not only get enough exercise, but to make sure they get enough time and opportunity to play outside. If you live in a more rural area with access to green spaces or you have a lot of parks or natural areas the problem is oftentimes more a battle against sedentary activities, such as watching television, movies and playing video games, that are so pervasive in our culture.

One way of raising the next generation of environmentalists (I like to call them "stewards of nature"), is to expose your kids early and often to not just the outside, but to the wonder of all the life that teems around us outside the safe bubble of our modern homes.

Moon snail eggsWe try to get our kids outside, but aren't always successful, especially with the wet and rainy weather around here. One thing we like to do is take them down to the beach for low tide. We generally find sea stars, crabs, moon snails, sea anemones by the hundreds, tube worms and lots of other animals.

Now, these are not the spectacular Seaworld style mammals that bring in the crowds, but the everyday critters that inhabit the beaches around here. These are the LBJs of the sea.

Moon snail and sea anemoneIf all we do is wow our kids with sea otter tricks, jumping killer whales and stories of deadly sharks and eels, how do they garner respect for the little guys whose lives make those farther up the food chain possible?

I am hoping that with exposure, coupled with education, my kids will learn to enjoy and respect nature and all that it contains and will strive to protect it as well when they are adults.

Dead fish headFor those of you parents, or parents-to-be who are interested in reading more, check out Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.

Or just take your kids outside and let them explore. Something as mundane (or disgusting, depending on your take) as a half-eaten fish head, opens up a world of wonder to a child.

What do you do to encourage your child explore the natural world? Camping, trips to the beach?


Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

I feel lucky to live near some wild areas, even though I live in a very urban area. This is a good reminder to get my kids into the wild more. Not just so they will be good stewards, but for their own well-being.

The Itinerant Laborer said...

My television goes dark every Spring. We live in Western NY so the winters can be long, but once Spring shows even a sign of its impending arrival, we start going outside and just digging around in the dirt. It always leads to something good.

Farmer's Daughter said...

At school, I focus on place-based learnning. It's supposed to be in the 50's toward the end of the week so I'll be taking my kiddos outside.

As for parenting... Josh gets lots oof time on the farm. Most recently we tapped trees.

Jenette said...

We go for walks on the creek or just get a shovel and magnifying glass and go in the back yard. My kids had a water fight in the rain yesterday followed by a warm shower.

Unknown said...

When my kids aren't in school, they're generally outside. We live in suburbia with lots of woods to explore. They routinely come home soaked and dirty, but happy and excited as well. It's worth the added laundry and extra shoes to have them out learning and exploring.

Aimee said...

I just lock them out of the house! KIDDING - sort of. On sunny afternoons after school, they know they are expected to play outside more or less until dinner. We have five acres and lots of cute farm animals plus interesting places to play like the compost heap and papa's shop, so it really isn't a hardship. Then again they are only seven and five, so I imagine it might get tougher to battle tv and Internet and phones and computers and video games as time goes on and they lose interest in worms and bugs.

The Haphazard Countryman said...

This is exactly the reason why, when a new job opportunity came knocking, I jumped at it to move from Phoenix to Richmond, VA. I went from a tract home to 7+ acres. Trying to remember what I did growing up in rural Wisconsin, it all boiled down to one thing...exploring. Exploring the creek that ran through the woods, exploring the bugs and critters that live in the woods, just being outside. Now my three boys are getting to experience that. Although when we first moved last summer, watching them walk across the yard bobbing and weaving to avoid every bug that flew by was amusing!

meg- grow and resist said...

Mostly we do it by being excited about it ourselves. Recently I've pointing out different birds to the Babylady and identifying them and she has been really into that. To the point of calling for her "bird map" (identification card) when she is on the potty to read.
We take a lot of slow walks noticing what is around us and she is obsessed with picking up rocks, twigs the point that she begged to be a rock for halloween last year.
Camping, hiking, rolling in the grass, digging up worms, planting seeds and dandelion bouquets.
Plus we didn't have her watch any TV/movies until she was 3 (and so far just The Red Balloon and Mary Poppins) so she didn't really know it existed. So for the most part she isn't really interested.
This summer: biking!

Erica/Northwest Edible Life said...

Moon snails are too spectacular! :)

I find that nature and outside looks more interesting to kids who don't have cable tv or any of the assorted video game things.

Brad K. said...


NDD - I think it is probably a significant iProblem. You left out the texting form of dis-communication, among the hazards of sedentary activities.

You might have overlooked one important aspect that works - that is, show your kids what is important by letting them see where you spend your time and attention. Reading? Check, they share the activity and the motivation just appears. Nature interest? Check - share what you recognize and notice, show that the time enriches your life, and the motivation flows from there.

The short ones pick up on where adults spend their time; they are incredibly tough to deceive about that.

Hazel said...

My kids have always been keen on playing outside generally, but I have noticed that as my eldest gets older she is losing the interest in bugs etc. I am wondering, like Aimee, if it will become harder on a day-to-day basis.

We're a pretty outdoorsy family, so there will always be dog walks, cycle rides, canoeing trips etc together, plus they have their own patches on the allotment (which still mostly involves 'rescuing' worms and ladybirds and creating worm farms for the youngest 2, but hey!)

I agree completely with Brad K about modelling what you want your children to find important. I am enthusiastic about nature and also point things out accurately.
I don't mean I insist on using the Latin names or anything, but it does annoy me when I hear people pointing out the 'birdies' to children. They're not 'birdies' they're ducks/Red Kites/pigeons.

Similarly, I've always pointed out individual plants rather than just 'flowers'. If you don't know, find out with your child.

I'd like to make it clear I'm only talking about common species to your area, not the finer points of ornithology and botany! A colleague at work couldn't identify a dandelion plant without the flowers, and many can't identify the common trees in our hedgerows, which considering I live and work in a rural area is worrying. No wonder their children's idea of outside ends at a football pitch.

Julia's Child said...

"No child left Inside" is the motto of a nearby Rec department and I've always loved it!
Our kids play outside every day, no matter what the weather. They always come back inside relaxed.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Brad and Hazel - Yeah, modeling behavior is one of the most effective ways of encouraging kids. I love when we are all sitting around reading - it's so quiet and relaxing. Emma spent the afternoon after school going around the block collecting trash.

That said, I'm really bad about being on the computer. I try not to be on it when the kids are awake and save it for when they are in school and in bed.

Brad - You're right. I totally forgot about texting, probably because nobody in my household does it.

Here's a great story for you all... my two BILs just visited for a week. The majority of their time here they spent either texting their friends or on their laptops. They both set up on the dining table or in a chair with their faces glued to the screens.

They did interact and we did some stuff together, but not very much. It was quite anti-social and a bit weird.

andrea said...

I'm sorry I don't have the citation right now, but there was a Cornell study that I used to cite in grant proposals about the activity that was the strongest indicator of future "environmentalists". The simple activity was free-play in nature before the age of 11. Just get them there and let them explore, play, and poke around.

Renee @ FIMBY said...

We have a family day every weekend outdoors. We call it one day a week. It's a non-negotiable.

My husband has written about it on our adventure blog:

And I followed up with this homemaker's perspective:

During the week the kids spent time playing outdoors (with our without me) in our backyard. Or I take them for nature walks in a local preserve. They are old enough to be outdoors alone in the yard (nice break for me) as we homeschool.

This is a huge family value of ours - to be outdoors & appreciate nature and to be good stewards of creation.

Diane said...

Our kids loved tidepools, too. We have been lucky to live in a neighborhood full of trees, near forests and rivers and streams, where it was pretty easy to get out and play in nature. It also helped us to have nature-loving friends with kids about the same age as ours. We could take vacations together, and the kids always had others to play with.

Anonymous said...

I like the phrase "no child left inside". We spend a good part of our summer in Maine where the frogs are rampant. Most mornings are spent searching for frogs and fish, while trying to avoid poison ivy (not always successful!).

katyfarber said...

Oh, tide pools! I can't wait for summer. Our landlocked state doesn't provide that. We have lots of woods to explore though. We have to basically close the inside. Outside is the only option and they end up having a blast.