I missed Nature Play Day.
If you missed it too—mark your calendars for 2013: June 15, 2013. It’s an event sponsored by Child & Nature Alliance of Canada, a network of organizations and individuals who are working to connect children to nature through education, advocacy, programming, policy, research, and the built environment, and part of the “get thy child back into nature” movement inspired by, among others, Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. The idea behind it is to raise the awareness around outdoor play and the need to get our children outside to play. From the CNAC website: “Make Nature Play Day a day to invite someone out with you who may have forgotten how wonderful it is to play outside — help them reconnect with nature by planning a great day outside!”
It’s a good goal, right? There’s a… typical… post here by Jill Sturdy from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society about why Nature Play Day is important and how one can celebrate it.
So why does reading about Nature Play Day… and the goals of organizations such as Child & Nature Alliance of Canada leave me so… uncomfortable?
Same two reasons that had me cringing through parts of Louv’s book. First, it’s just kinda sad that we need this. Right? That we, as parents, in a pretty affluent, aware society, need to be reminded that it’s a good thing to take our kids outside. That we need Nature Play Day. And organizations dedicated to promoting this idea. Shouldn’t we just know? Should we just do it?
The thing is—of course we know. But here’s the second reason for my heebee-jeebies when we start talking about this topic. Of course we know our children need to—want to, until we unlearn them of the habit—to be outside.
But it’s frackin’ hard, in 2013, to give them as much outdoor time as they ought to have.
Of my three children, all love to play outside, at manicured playgrounds and in wild spaces. They love to climb trees, throw rocks in rivers, build dams, dig pits, hunt for bugs, build forts… and just run, run, run. The two boys, moreover, need to be outside. We cracked the code with Cinder when he was two—requirements for a happy, stable Cinder included a minimum of four—count them, four—hours of outdoor play. Could be substituted for with some intense physical indoor activity in part… but outdoors was better. His little brother apparently read the same baby manual.
So we’re outside a lot.
And it costs us.
It’s a price I’m willing and able to pay—I freelance, my husband works from home, we homeschool, and we live in an area around a safe, large “Common” space, complete with playground, wild spaces, and lots of families and adults trading off active and passive child watching duties. But I’m hyper-aware that our lifestyle offers flexibilities most people do not have. My kids are outside every day; most days, they play outside almost as much as they need to (if not necessarily as much as they want to).
But it costs us. For every hour that my kids are outside is an hour that their parents don’t—the list is long—don’t earn money. Don’t clean house. Can’t prepare supper. Don’t do laundry. Don’t run errands.
Because we can’t just let them outside, right?
Even with the gift that is our Common, I sit at the playground watching my two-year-old climb the ladder and go down the slide—again and again and again. An hour rolls by, maybe two. He needs to do this. And I need to watch him.
Paid work doesn’t get done during this time. Supper doesn’t get prepped. The dishes don’t get done.
My elder two are, at 7.5 and 10, able to fill some of this need on their own. They can play on the Common, and venture within a certain boundary of the neighbourhood on their own. But they need me to take them to the wilds, to the rivers—or even to the outdoor spaces that a generation ago they could have run off to alone.
They need my supervision not because they’re less competent than children of an earlier generation. Nor because their world is a less safe place. I need to be there because it’s an emptier place. That’s the real danger of our streets and neighbourhoods: not lurking criminals, but the lack of benign adult presences. The grandmas peeking out the windows, the neighbours hanging out on the porch, watching the kids scooter or run by between playgrounds and parks. Available to help if needed—and helping just by being, just by having eyes.
Even in our inner-city neighbourhood, considered one of the most vibrant in our city, the residential streets are empty, and most of the time, our parks and playgrounds are very, very quiet.
It’s easy to tell parents to get themselves and their children outside. It’s easy to make parents feel guilty about not being outside enough.
It’s darn hard to create neighbourhoods, communities and societies in which it’s easy for parents to let their kids have as much outdoor time as they need—without the parents needing to be present in the outdoor time with them all the time.
Do your children play outside as much as they need to? And what’s the cost to you?
Here is a great source of inspiration for getting outside in small doses (and what to do once you get here): The Outdoor Hour Challenges.