-An Essay by Olivia Griset
I have long been fascinated with nature education and placed-based learning both in traditional classrooms and also in informal settings; but not until becoming a mother myself and seeing how little our modern child plays outside (new estimates are less than 30 min. a day on average!), have I become dedicated specifically to working on empowering parents and families to become more comfortable spending time outside playing, learning, adventuring, and exploring TOGETHER. If we raise a generation of kids who never play outside-what possibly could our future hold? To me, this epidemic of the modern indoor, plugged-in, over-scheduled child, is not an environmental issue it is actually a public health and social justice issue. As parents are we moderating technology and scheduling unstructured playtime? Are we getting our kids OUTSIDE?
It is so interesting to me that the place in which we have the power to have the deepest and most enduring impact on children has very little formal attention drawn to it–childrearing. This seems to be a current element of our culture– raising our children, our most difficult, intimidating, and important job, is the thing in which we are least formally educated. Thinking back on the day I brought my first daughter home from the hospital– I would like to say I was totally excited and calm–the truth was–I was terrified. I spent nine months of my pregnancy focused on the process of giving birth (which granted was pretty difficult) but in the end only lasted a few days. I had not, however, spent one moment reading about or really thinking about what to do with my baby after she actually arrived. The wonderful and kind nurses at the hospital showed us how to bathe her, change her diaper, feed her, and then we were sent on our way-out into this crazy world . We held a new little human that we were now suppose to raise (not screw up) and help meet her full potential so that she would ultimately thrive–Umm-no pressure—right?!! No wonder our first months of parenthood were racked with anxiety! I find it ironic that I spent years being formally trained to teach and care for other people’s children but had no idea really how to care for my own. Luckily, unconditional love is a powerful and forgiving force in families.
In our culture caring for our children seems to be something we are seemingly suppose to know how to “do” and when in doubt to just “go with our gut”. All too often however I find my “gut” is perhaps a snap reaction, or a default response based upon past experiences from my childhood. I am not proud to admit it, but not all of these “go with my gut” choices have been good or appropriate reactions. So here is where I question this common practice. I KNOW I can be a better parent then I currently am. I KNOW I can read information, coming from a different background then how I was raised, perhaps more steeped in research and best practice-and that implementing these practices could make me a better Mom. I KNOW I could use clearer language with my children so I could communicate with them in a more age-appropriate manner. I KNOW there are things I need to accept and change about myself before I can really be a great mother.
I want to be a great Mom, it is really important to me, but I KNOW I am not always a great Mom and sometimes I don’t even know how to be a better mother. That is where the learning comes in. As a teacher, I adapted my methods constantly based upon professional development and training opportunities and watching experienced teachers teach-this was how I “honed my craft”. I find that in childrearing there is a HUGE lack of these “professional development” opportunities. For example, if you were not raised going outside, working in a garden, exploring the woods, learning about insects, plants, weather, animals…how can society expect you to not only recognize that outside time is healthy and then feel comfortable enough to take your own children outside? This is a hard ask without community help, education, and support.
My call to action is simple and is this- If you are lucky enough to feel comfortable being an outdoor parent-kindly share that comfort with others who are not. Offer to take kids and families for a hike, or perhaps suggest and then lead a community paddling, biking, or camping trip. Your skills as an outdoor family (that you might take for granted) can offer a transformative nature experience to other families who do not feel so comfortable going outdoors alone. If you have stories of times when this has worked in your community please share them with us! We would love to share your ideas on how to get more families in our own communities outside, feeling more comfortable playing and adventuring TOGETHER! Thanks!