down by the river

I've been having what is turning out to be an ongoing debate with a friend about the role of nature in children's lives. Lately, there is much discussion culturally about what is being called a 'nature deficiency' in children. My friend is exceptionally opposed to the term 'deficiency' being haphazardly applied to children. I agree with her on the semantics of the issue. However, I do believe that nature plays a vital role in the well-being of humans and is necessary for healthy child development.

By observing my children and myself, I know that our contact with nature calms and balances our moods. It provides us with knowledge grounded in reality. It's a whole body, full sense experience everytime, which somehow also transports us away from our limited thinking and mortal bodies, to connect us with enduring, expansive life.

I can almost hear the buzz of her synapses growing and connecting as my child's understanding of the world clarifies.

Nature is not all and everything to good health. But it is a component, as important as water, vitamin C, and care from loving adults.
Back to my friend, who is not as certain as I in this need for nature. She is suspicious of dosing children without care as to the ingredients or without complimentry teaching in respect. In short, what good is nature for one child when as a culture we destroy it without remorse? How is this healthy?
She is right, of course. Nature isn't just 'nature'. It is something we understand through the filter of our culture. When we see tv ads for suvs, parked on a cliff overlooking a valley of lush forest, nature is something that we drive through and conquer. Nature belongs to the toughest and most affluent. Or we see 'living on the land' as some laughable hippy idea, as outdated as daisies and bell bottoms. We think of nature through consumerist lenses, believing in our own goodness as we save the earth by buying 'eco-friendly' cars and recycling our #2 plastics. It's a frightful image, this supposed knowing about nature without being anywhere near it.
Which is why I say to my friend, let's go out and sit by the river and continue this discussion. We'll take our kids, and we can talk about whether or not being in nature without the filters of toys, activites, or even 'education' is a good thing, a necessary thing, for our children. About our health and the health of our society. And if support for the the development of respectful appreciation for nature and holding on to the wonder and timelessness of it all begins with our society or begins with us right now. Just hanging out.


  1. I agree that nature is an important part of our lives. As a child I would visit friends houses and there were days that other than the walk across the street we didn't go out side. Those days were "fun" but the days Mom and Dad 'dragged' me on a hike through mountains while on vacation or took a drive to the beach just to stroll around collecting shells and watching the sun set. Those days were always some how majestic!

  2. A beautiful essay. I very much enjoyed reading it.

    I grew up surrounded by nature. In the summer we'd hike and go camping, and even when we weren't out there, we lived out of town in a fairly wild area. Sometimes, now, I look around at my suburban life, with my handkerchief yard where the wildest thing is my unweeded flower bed, and I desperately miss sitting sitting on a log under a pine tree, watching the wind move the tops of the trees far above me.

  3. Outdoors is ABSOLUTELY essential to our kids- I'm sad that we have to take them out of doors. I think that's one of the main reasons I have a garden, to get my daughters involved in dirt!

    BTW, I love your daughters sweater. We have a similar one, purchased from a S. American import shop. So cute!

  4. My thought? Just take your (anyone, not you specifically) kids camping, let them play in the backyard unrestricted, teach them about the area in which you live (what birds, trees, etc live in your area). And stop worrying...

  5. I get where your friend is coming from (I am going to guess that she is in some way involved in education or child development... just a guess), but even as a child development "person" myself I agree more with you. I don't think that nature NEEDS much supplemental teaching. It does it all on it's own- science, math, art, is all found in nature and can be witnessed without explanation. If a child is outside for long periods each day they will see, on their own, a flower grow, or birds hatch, or rain fall and run into puddles or streams. No one has to explain any of this to them. Occasionally, if a child is interested, you can give them further information like how the plants use the sun and the water to make their food, but this is not necessary. Nor is it helpful to hover over kids and monopolize their attention by "teaching" them everything about nature. The learning is only going to be meaningful to them if they discover it on their own. And if you need proof of how powerful nature is over children even from birth, think about the one and only sure way to quiet an irritated newborn (one whose needs have otherwise been met)... other than sticking a boob in their mouth, I mean:) Take them outside! Of course, this may be some evolutionary holdover that prevented crying babies from alerting nearby predators, but at the very least the fact that even a newborn recognized the difference between artificial and natural light is a testament to how powerful nature is.

  6. Hey this is awesome! I love the thinking. I read the other day that after YEARS(decades!) of trying to figure out why people who garden have longer lives, they have found that of course there are fresh fruits and veggies , but also the homeopathic involvement of just getting in the dirt! It builds the immune systems. I think nature is such a foundational part f living. Being with livingthings makes us more aware of our own lives. And gives us peace at being a part of it.Thanks for sharing

  7. I agreet hat it is imprortant. not just in a developmental sense but in getting them on side for proteting said environment. My Step daughter loves going for walks down the canal side near our house and spotting birds and bugs and flowers. Plus she loves just running round like a maniac in a place that free and open. There is so much wonder in the natural world that we should encourage everyone to look for, not just our kids. Next step for us is rockpools in Cornwall this summer. Must go brush up on my rockpool life!

  8. Great Post our family is always blogging about our contact with nature and how to make the best of where you live. Charlotte Mason has some wonderful teachings about nature and children that have really blessed and encouraged our family.
    Enjoyed your post ~Heather ;-)

  9. I've been stewing over your thoughts since I read them yesterday and this is what I think. you are right on. :) Kids need to just be outside, period! hanging out, looking, playing, enjoying.
    And how are kids going to learn it's not about an SUV on a cliff or being a hippie unless we show them there's another way?