I’ve always loved the concept of free range parenting. I remember one trip a while back though when I went skiing for the weekend…well, no not quite. I actually went to the ski resort, did a few runs, managed not to kill myself, handed in my equipment and did what I really wanted to do which was relax, drink a glass of wine at the bottom and watch everyone else get fit.
Still on the slope, I noticed tons of little people all done up in suits and skiing very proficiently, so proficiently in fact, that they passed me at three times my speed making me look like a out of control wobbling basket case. Once I finally made it down alive and yes, it was touch and go there for a moment and my knees had finally stopped shaking, I started thinking about all those kids and how good it was to see them out in the fresh air enjoying themselves.
Seek outside activities that have no purpose
Having said that, It also made me reflect that like many sports, skiing takes care of the need to get kids outside in the great outdoors and active. It’s a lot of fun but it is also pretty one dimensional in that it has a purpose. You go up a hill on the lift and ski down. As a result, as fun as it is, it doesn’t fulfill a child’s desperate need to play in nature, undisturbed by adults where the mind has time to fully wander. After all, even if a little person wanted to hang about playing in the snow, mom and dad are likely to urge them on down the hill, since hanging around stationary on a ski slope isn’t what most grownups really go skiing for. The bottom line is that skiing, like many outdoor sports, it’s a wonderful adjunct to a life that includes hanging about in nature but like any sport that takes place in the great outdoors, it should not be considered a substitute.
Kids are suffering for a deficit of nature
You see kids out there are suffering from a disease. It’s not a disease where you have to race to the doctor’s office and sit with tons of people sniffling and coughing and holding grotty tissues. It’s a disease that strips kids to the bone not physically but mentally. You see as humans we need dirt and lots of it. We need trees and forests and plants of all kinds and shapes. If we have these things, we feel great. If we don’t, we feel depressed and I know when I’m nature deprived, I want to buy cream puffs and eat all the time. All I can say is, I’m happy I live near some good sized trees otherwise I’d be well, much larger than I am.
For far too many kids today, particularly those in big cities, life is about living in neighbourhoods where many of them can’t even leave their back yards for fear of traffic or perverts. They are far too often stuck indoors because that’s the only place they can play freely. If they play in the yard, mom and dad frequently want to be in tow, watching their every move. After all, there are always weirdoes, rabid dogs, killer bunnies, coyotes, hovering police helicopters and who knows what other hazards.
So for a child stuck in a postage stamp back yard, where is the joy of running unencumbered and feeling the wind in their hair? Where is the thrill of getting filthy and covered head to toe in mud? The freedom to get wet and stay wet for a while? The freedom to get scratched by bushes and make yourself a fort and while away the hours spying on everyone.
Exposure to wild places is critical for your child’s health
That we live in the kinds of neighbourhoods that make unstructured play difficult is just part of modern life but it’s a critical loss and it must be made up some how if we want to turn out healthy kids. For those of you that want to read more about this subject, take a look at ‘Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder’ by Richard Louv. Mr. Louv argues that exposure to dirt in nature is necessary for both the physical and emotional health of children and adults and I believe, he’s absolutely right.
As parents, we worry about all the little things that might affect our child. We get upset when our children are in any way threatened by a playmate or a tough teacher but the biggest threat to our children lie in aspects of life that may rarely cross our consciousness. Our choice of house or neighbourhood seems only to be of adult concern. Is there enough room to play inside may feature but the larger questions are often completely missed because we’re so wrapped up in appliance lust or counter top envy. In my current neighbourhood, they are building infills, which are great inside but have absolutely no yard at all because the name of the game is profit at all costs and that means squeezing as much house on to the lot as possible.
Keep in mind the important stuff
I recognize that not every family can either afford or be in a position to enjoy a house that has access to nature but when we spend so much time buying our perfect house and worrying about the furniture to fill it with or the colour of the trim or what kind of ‘landscaping package’ we have, it’s proximity to wild places gets completely lost.
Our kids need wild places. They need to poke worms and get dirt under their fingernails. They need to climb trees and wriggle under fallen logs. They need the thrill that comes with really being in nature and being free. Going for a walk while being hovered over by mom and dad doesn’t cut it. As mom and dad, you have to back off and let them discover things for themselves. Can you leave them in the mountains alone? No, of course not. You can though, back off far enough that they feel alone, that they have time to explore without your obvious observation. For your part, try looking busy with something else. Remove your attention from the kids and they will find their own way, literally. Be a free range parent, you’ll be glad you did. Follow my parenting services link to find out how I can help you get the most out of your parenting for both you and your child.