Where you choose to bring up your kids, matters a lot. That’s probably not a popular thing to say right about now, as so many of our cities and other living spaces are often, from a kid’s point of view, mind-numbingly boring.
Where you choose to bring up your kids: Your environment impacts your children
But where you choose to bring up your kids impacts them more than you know. That’s because the living arrangement you choose as parents affects how you behave, which in turn affects your children.
I’ll give you an example. Once upon a time, I lived in a cul-de-sac in the suburbs. When I looked out of the window in my neighbourhood I was essentially looking at a dressed-up parking lot. I didn’t want to walk around that parking lot or the roads that connected to it. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant walk in the summer, and it was even less pleasant at minus 20, with traffic rushing by in a never-ending stream.
Having said that, I needed exercise, so I joined a gym. Yay, I was about to get fit! Yet, here’s the funny part. The gym was within walking distance of my house, with a rather large but walkable hill in between. I could have simply opened my front door and got all the exercise I needed by simply walking to the gym. I could have even just walked up the hill and back, not bothered with the gym at all, and presto, all my exercise needs would have been fulfilled for…nothing, no cash, nada. This struck me as I was driving up the hill one day, and I pondered how ridiculous it was to be behaving like this, all because I didn’t want to be active outside of where I lived. And if I didn’t want to be active where I lived, then it made me wonder whether my future children would want to either.
Make the environment a key consideration
When it comes to where you choose to bring up your kids, I’m sure you’re like most parents and buy a home you can afford, and no one can blame you. But parents often put access to good schools, ahead of offering their children the natural environmental experiences that will provide the foundation for a lifetime of learning.
Schools are just one aspect—an important one, to be sure—but when you’re looking at a future living arrangement, there are a number of priorities to balance.
Where you choose to raise your kids is determined by the need to be close to work, and where you live is mostly determined by cost. But even within a certain budget, there are some neighbourhoods that are more child-friendly than others. If you are in a city or suburban landscape, look for proximity to natural areas, preferably ones that the children can access themselves as they age. Look for older neighbourhoods that have had time to grow trees and other plants over time. Neighborhoods that have backyards attached to alleys or walkways are more child-friendly than ones that don’t.
What happens in child hostile environments
If you don’t particularly like looking at a bland streetscape, then it’s likely your kids won’t either. And if neither you nor they feel comfortable recreating in that environment, it means, by default, that neither of you will. All that accomplishes is increasing the likelihood of adopting sedentary behaviours that are endemic to the North American lifestyle.
Most of these spaces are not designed for children or even pedestrians; they’re designed for the car. That’s the way our neighbourhoods have grown up in North America, and if you think about it, our entire society has, at least since the 1950s, been hard at work building environments to work for one thing, and that’s the car. If you’re interested in learning how that was no accident and how we have put time and effort into a way of living that comes with all sorts of built-in problems, you should read the Geography of Nowhere by Howard Kunstler.
Where you choose to bring up your kids: Children need natural, not man-made environments
It also means that most streetscapes aren’t safe for children to play on or around unless you have your eyes glued to your children’s backsides while they ride their tricycles, and we can certainly question whether riding a tricycle while cars whoosh by is even fun. How about the backyard? Or the park? Well, being the manmade landscapes arranged by the development community that they are, they often end up putting nature on the back burner for convenience, profit, and pretty much everything else.
All of the above means that many people have to travel to get out in nature. That makes it more difficult and time-consuming. It’s easier just to hand the kids a device and do something else, and because it’s easier, that’s often what happens, not because anyone means it that way but because life has a way of intervening.
Look at most playgrounds. They are legislated into being utterly boring. Now that everyone sues everyone else whenever anything goes wrong, playgrounds have to be safe. What’s the fun in incessant safety from a child’s point of view? There simply aren’t any. Kids were meant to climb trees, crawl under things, dig in the mud, and get dirty. That’s the way they experience life, and if their experience is “manmade,” then that’s all they’ll know.
Yes, visiting those “safe” playgrounds with a couple of stalks for trees is better than sitting in the living room at home, but it still means a little bit of their world of possibilities narrows every day. An iPad or similar device can easily become their window on a world they will never properly know or feel. For far too many children, it’s become exactly that. Can you stop it? Yes, but only with tremendous effort, where you make the ability to experience nature something you seek out all the time.
Kids need nature
Kids need nature. They don’t just like it; they need it. And no, I’m not talking about fancy skiing trips or anything else that keeps them busy and occupied in something parents often see as gainful. No, I’m talking about experiencing nature as much as possible on their own. Take them to a forest or other natural space and back off. Pretend you are otherwise occupied, and let them explore. Yes, keep an eye out for dangers, of course, but let them find themselves in the music that is nature. Let them feel nature and not just stand at its edges.
And lastly, when it comes to considering where you choose to bring up your kids, if you find yourself looking out of the window on a landscape that dampens your spirit rather than enlivens it, give some thought to listening to that little voice inside your head that’s asking for change. It might be possible or it might not be, depending on your circumstances. If you can’t do anything about it, so be it, but by acknowledging it, you’ve reinforced the importance of nature, which means you’re well on your way to ensuring your children get that exposure, whether it’s difficult or not. Good for you!
Would you like to know about how to create a resilient child? Read this article titled a parent’s guide to resilience.
Here’s the “Secret to getting your kids to listen“