I recently read The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. The book discusses “nature deficit disorder”, a not-so-serious name for a pretty serious issue, that is, the lack of access to wild spaces that kids today are faced with (wild spaces being everything from a roadside ditch overgrown with grasses and teeming with wildlife, to hiking through an old growth forest). Books like this make me sad: reading about children who live without any access to green sites, and also reading about everyday kids whose life of school, homework, and organized sports leaves them so little precious free time for exploring. Add to that the lack of community and fear of the boogeyman (or worse, liability) and too few children get to experience the outdoors the way my generation did.
Yesterday we headed out for one of our regular hikes through the forest, just 5 minutes from where we live. The book was in my head as I looked around at the spectacular environment my children enjoy regularly. We picked salmonberries, not quite sweet but still a tasty treat:
We saw a bald eagle perched atop a small tree, watching the lake for fish (you might have to enlarge the photo to see it):
And the children did what children do in the forest, they explored. We’d stop every few metres to examine an interesting feature; kids see things in such a unique and wonderful way. A section of lakeshore was ripe for exploration with sticks:
Small holes in the banks that lined sections of the trail were wonderful spots to find bugs and other interesting creatures:
We went with another family of homelearners. Our two oldest kids, not always the most socially adept of children, ran together with their collecting buckets and had a fabulous time exploring together. It gave the two mamas a chance to catch up and talk about all sorts of neat things with few interruptions. The younger kids enjoyed the occasional piggyback ride (giving this mama a much needed workout). The weather was warm and delightful. The children were fairly quiet as they explored, often bent over in concentration to examine a particular bush or insect. We could hear birds singing and the occasional breeze rustling through the trees.
And then a school field trip trooped past us. We’d heard them before we saw them. Children were clustered into groups, chatting noisily amongst themselves and seeming to pay very little attention to their surroundings. Adults looking harried could be seen repeatedly gazing around, lips moving as they silently counted heads for the fifth time in the last few minutes. They were on a schedule, they had an agenda, and there was no time for stopping if one child wanted to take a closer look at a brown ringed mushroom. They’d likely had a lecture at the education hut before embarking on their walk, and they’d likely been told what they were supposed to learn on their walk. It’s hardly likely that the teachers don’t appreciate the value of free exploration but when you are managing a group of 35 eight year olds and when the bus is waiting for you in the parking lot, you really don’t have the luxury of taking time to indulge the whims of each and every child.
Eventually they passed by and we were returned to the noises of the forest. Son had spied a large rock and needed a boost to climb it. Our friend’s son was giving Daughter tips on how to find salamanders while they worked together to reach a fat, ripe salmonberry dangling above them. We came across a man fishing and he patiently answered the children’s questions about what sort of bait he was using and what kind of fish he was catching. It was a near perfect outing, and the sort we are fortunate to enjoy on a regular and frequent basis.