The environment or 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.
Your environment impacts your children
But where you choose to bring up your kids impacts them more than you know. That’s because what living arrangement you choose as parents affects how you behave and how you behave 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 nor the roads that connected to it. It wasn’t a particularly nice walk in summer and even less so at minus 20 with traffic blasting past in an endless stream.
Having said that, I needed exercise and so I joined a gym. Yay, I was about to get fit! Yet and here’s the funny part. The gym was in 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 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 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 most parents do what they can afford at the time and nobody can blame them. But they frequently look at other aspects of their future living arrangement, such as as access to good schools rather than 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 a priorities to balance.
Where you choose to bring up 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 as the children age they can access themselves. Look for older neighbourhoods that have had time to grow trees and other plants over time. Neighbourhoods that have back yards 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 banal street scape, then it’s likely your kids won’t either. And if neither you or they feel comfortable recreating in that environment, it means by default that you neither one of you will. Which means that all the sedentary behaviours that are endemic to the North American lifestyle suddenly become that much more attractive and you have to really work at it to make sure it’s not the lifestyle you sink in to.
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 1950’s, 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 in to a way of living that comes with all sorts of built-in problems, you should read the Geography of Nowhere by Howard Kunstler.
Children need natural, not man-made environments
It also means that most streetscapes aren’t remotely safe for children to play on or around either without have your eyes glued to your children’s backsides whilst they ride their tricycles and we can certainly question whether even riding a tricycle whilst cars whoosh past is even fun? How about the back yard? 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 and profit and pretty much everything else.
Which 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 in to being utterly boring. Now that everyone sues everyone else anytime anything goes wrong, playgrounds have to be safe. What’s the fun in incessant safety from a child’s point of view? There really isn’t any. Kids were meant to climb trees and crawl under things and 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 are 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 i pad 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 totally 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 spirt rather than lightens 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 something about it, then so be it but by acknowledging it at least you’ve reinforced how important nature is and that means you’re well on your way to making sure your kids get that exposure, 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.