Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nature and Childhood Development

Thursday, I watched a documentary on PBS called Nature's Child. It was about nature and how it affects and benefits childhood development. Of course being the hippie that I am, I already knew this lol. But it was still a very interesting show to watch and I learned quite a bit from it.

In this day and age, most children spend their time indoors either on the computer or at the television. Gradually, less and less children are spending quality time outside. If they do get outside, it is either at school during recess or for an organized sport. While these are also good development teachers, they are not enough. Children need to play outside in their neighborhoods, like we all did as kids. But this is happening less and less. Why is this, you ask? Well there is one theory that I have found to be pretty feasible. Some believe that modern day parents are being conditioned by the media to be afraid to let their children play outside in the neighbor, whether by themselves or with other kids. Parents are so afraid of child abduction that they would rather keep their children indoors, where they are "safe."

"Safe" is not always best for development though. When a child grows up in a protective cocoon, they are not able to be as resilient in later life as a child who is allowed to take risks. Surprisingly children thrive off of taking risks and overcoming challenges. Its what TEACHES them to cope with stress and/or scary situations, thus furthering development. Of course, you have to be conscious of safety but it has to be real for them.

In reality, child abductions have been nationally decreasing in the past ten years, thanks mostly to the Amber Alert system and other abduction prevention programs. There is a way to keep your child safe from Stranger Danger and still allow them to grow and learn with nature. You can teach your child to be conscious of strangers around them and what to do if a stranger approaches them. Another preventative measure you could take as a parent is to supervise your children while they are outside. Sit out and enjoy the nature yourself while you watch your children play. Its not that hard. :)

Technology is thought to be very helpful to childhood development. After all, there are endless cases of toddlers and preschoolers who know how to run certain technologies (iPod, cell phone, etc.) BETTER than their own parents who own them! Being a hippie and a Buddhist, this upsets me somewhat. Technology is a material, and I feel like materials are slowly taking over this world lol. You hear all the time about how a teen loves this one material (her cellphone, his car, etc), but hardly ever hear about the human exchange of love. I believe that technology actually inhibits development, especially social development. You may think that your teenager is being social when she is on Facebook, but she is in reality by herself, sitting in front of a screen. How is that being social? On the other hand, nature promotes development and all types of it. A child interacts a lot with people when they are outside, as well as any creatures they come across. In a sense, the more manipulative the parts that a child interacts with, the more creative and imaginative play is. This is why being outside is so much fun for kids. They are being active and are taking in so much more than they would with technology. After all, humans existed for years without technology and in nature. We live in nature, not in a computer program. This isn't TRON guys! ;)

There are also several levels of nature that your children should experience on a regular basis. They are considered levels because of the way they vary in how much wilderness or nature is actually in them. The four levels are:

-Neighborhoods and Yards
This is the outdoors surrounding your house. Children experience animals like dogs, cats and squirrels around their neighborhood, and will still get the sense of  being in nature. Children need to experience "suburban" nature as much as the others. 

-Playground Parks
These are parks that have playgrounds, tennis courts, wading pools, etc. Children will experience a somewhat different environment than they would around their house and will also get to interact with other children they don't necessarily know. Some Billings examples are Pioneer and Rose Park. This is still considered somewhat of a "suburban" nature but is still beneficial. 

- More Natural Parks
These types of parks don't normally have playgrounds, instead they have hiking trails and picnic areas. Children will get to see more outdoorsy animals like ducks, deer, gophers, etc. Natural parks encourage exploration, which is very beneficial to development. Some Billings examples are Phipp's Park, Zimmerman Park or Riverfront Park.

-Wilderness and/or Camping
This would be the equivalent of taking your child to a National Park, lake, or the woods. Children get the full experience of being and existing in nature. They will encounter all different types of animals and insects, plus probably see some plants they have never experienced before. Every child should go hiking or camping at least once in their childhood, I believe it is extremely helpful with development.

Another thing that maybe some people don't realize is how important hunting and fishing is for a child's development. They both teach a lot of discipline and responsibility to the children. With hunting, a child needs to learn to be responsible for themselves in the wild, as well as the gun they are carrying and the animal whose life they are taking. A lot of responsibility that might be hard to teach elsewhere. With fishing, a child will learn to be patient and to respect the earth, as well as to care for the fishing equipment they are responsible for and the fish whose life they are taking. Speaking of death, hunting and fishing are also very helpful in teaching children death in a good way. How can death be good, you ask? When it brings more life. Hunting and fishing show children that death leads to food and thus further life. Doesn't that sound beneficial to your children when they might have to experience death in their life, through either the death of a pet or even a loved one. A child who has taken an animal's life by hunting it will not be as confused by death, they will already understand it and will cope from it better.

With Alan, we take him outside as much as possible. Once a day if we can. Even if it is only for a walk around the neighborhood or if its as awesome as taking him camping to Canyon Ferry, we still make the effort to have him be outside and explore. When outside, I also allow him to lead the adventure. I am an adult and have had almost all of my outside experiences, why shouldn't I let him decide what he wants to do? He is the one growing and learning. I will mostly just follow Alan around and if he looks like he needs help deciding, then I will suggest something to him. But he is in control and he loves it!

I probably sound like a crazy ranting naturalist hippie woman to most of you but I encourage you to try this out. For the next month, try taking your kid to a different outside experience at least twice a week. Take them outside and let them lead you on a exploration, and encourage them to get dirty! You will find that not only are you enjoying your quality time with your child outside, but they are learning about how the world around them works. It is a great development tool and its so easy!!! So the question I have you now is, WHY ARE YOU STILL INSIDE?????? GET OFF MY BLOG, GET OFF THE INTERNET, AND GO PLAY IN THE SUN!!! Lol.

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