Today on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point, the host interviewed the author of How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott Sampson. (This was a re-broadcast of an earlier recording, but it was the first time I heard it). I have the book on my bed stand and have been reading it in fits and starts. This has been a very humbling read, as I’m painfully aware of how little I’ve had my 16-year-old daughter outside enjoying nature and seeing the wonder of the created world around her. There are several reasons for this (she is a ballet dancer which requires lots of time in ballet studios–these don’t exist outside, besides a very time-consuming online curriculum which steals about 7 or 8 hours a day!) So, like Rip Van Winkle, I feel I’ve woken out of a long winter’s (technology) nap and am awake to real life again! I’ve also been inspired by Ainsley Arment through her work at Be Wild and Free and have determined that this coming school year will be different. So, we’ve quit the demanding online academy and are taking a less stressful, more relaxed approach to our home education next year, including regularly scheduled outdoor times! I’m so looking forward to this!
In that endeavor, here are a few of the key points of Scott’s How to Raise a Wild Child book and interview:
• children today spend an average of 4-7 minutes outdoors and 7-10 hours on screens
• this phenomenon has reduced life expectancy, increased obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc.
• this dramatic cultural shift has been driven by a “fear factor” wherein parents fear child abduction, when in reality the likelihood of child abduction is no greater than it was in 1950.
• the “busy factor” of “over-scheduled children”–who go directly from school to sports, music lessons, etc., with no time to play.
• finally, the “lure of technology” robs countless hours that previous generations of children spent outdoors, running, climbing trees, building forts, exploring, and creating adventures.
What Scott Sampson sees in these modern trends is that we keep our children under a veritable “house arrest” where “free range children” are a dying breed!
The solution isn’t complicated, or only for the privileged. It merely requires getting outside! As one of the guests stated, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!” Children can be kept warm and dry no matter the weather with thoughtful preparation. This resonates so beautifully with the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, who advocated that children spend a minimum of 3 hours per day outside–rain or shine. In spring and fall, she insisted on even more time outdoors!
In an age of helicopter parenting, where children are habitually supervised and smothered by parental involvement, I love the words of my eldest daughter’s parenting philosophy of “benevolent neglect!” There is so much truth to the notion that children need to be left alone to muse, create, ponder, and reflect. Charlotte Mason advocated the importance of free play, noting,
Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.”Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake
Scott Sampson likened wise oversight of children’s playtime to “hummingbird parenting” where parents stay on the periphery and only zoom in when needed and just as quickly zoom out. And when we are outside with our children, give place for them to explore and discover on their own. Let’s not badger them with questions or facts, or “educational moments.” Let the wonder and awe of creation in all its profound intricacy and majesty, work its magic on us and our children.