Sometimes you find a book and everything the author is saying is what you’ve been thinking or saying to your friends for years. That was Linda Åkeson McGurk’s book “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather.”
As a child who was raised in Northern Alberta (VERY cold) on the edge of town playing in the woods, ponds, and open nature spaces that didn’t belong to anyone, I know how much an outdoor based childhood can shape you as an adult!
Freedom to Roam
“To a great extent, friluftsliv is made possible by the Swedish common law of allemansrätten (the right of public access) which grants everybody the right to walk, ride a bike or horse, ski, pick berries, or camp on private land, expect for the part that immediately surrounds a private dwelling….You can also walk through cattle pastures and other farm fields as long as you make sure to close all gates and don’t damage any crops. Unlike in the US, where private property rights are king, and land tends to be ruled by the risk for potential lawsuits…. What may seem like an impossible free for all works amazingly well, with little to no visible littering or destruction in natural areas.”
This is a big one for me! Like I said, up north, the woods were open to everyone. When I lived in Seattle, there were a lot of public parks and pathways and if I went into the mountains I was free to roam. But moving to rural Alberta was a bit of a shock for me. I had a fantasy of roaming over the prairies and walking for miles without seeing another person, but all the land is owned. I found out a natural space I thought was public land was privately owned and the owner (who was acquaintance of mine) let me know how terrible a person I was for trespassing and walking my dogs on land that was owned without permission. I actually had close access to more natural places in the City of Seattle than I do in rural Alberta!
While I don’t think a law that mandates land owners allow people on their property would ever work out here, it would be nice if some folks opened up their land for walking.
“Sometimes, regular classes like art, science, and physical education are taught outdoors…nature makes subjects like math and physics come alive in a way they never would in a classroom. “With the six year olds we’ve looked for sticks and compared length, which ones were shorter and longer […] In science class, with the older children, we’ve used the sledding hill to learn about friction by comparing different ways of getting down- for example, with a wax cloth, a plastic sled, shoes with grooved soles, and so on.”
This gave me so many ideas as a teacher! Right now I am only subbing, but when I do get a full time position, I will look for ways I can incorporate going outside into my lessons.
Sports Aren’t Necessarily The Best Way to Avoid Obesity
“One of the reasons why many American parents like to enroll their children in as many sports as possible is that they don’t want them to become sedentary, game-addicted couch sitters…But according to a review of current research on youth sports from the American College of Sports Medicine, it’s not possible to establish that playing sports actually prevents obesity. (Part of the problem seems to be that whatever calories the kids burn playing sports, they make up for by eating more junk food and sugary drinks, racking up more total calories than their non-sporty peers).
“A Study by the University of Copenhagen showed that children actually got more exercise while playing freely outdoors than when they participated in organized sports.”
This was another point where I yelled out “YES!” while I was reading. I have been watching youth sports since Ace was like 3 years old and it’s always driven me crazy to see what these kids were eating and drinking.
First off, parents buy them sports drinks but those drinks have as much sugar as a bottle of pop! And the kids aren’t sweating enough to need to replace electrolytes, especially in the form of a sports drink.
Secondly, concession stands at sport events never offer healthy options. It’s fries, pizza, taco in a bag, chips, pop, and chocolate bars. So then the child goes out there and gets a lot of exercise and and refuels on complete garbage!
Don’t Pressure Your PreSchooler
“Simplify childhood and resist the urge to try to keep up with the Jones’s kids. Remember that a preschooler needs very few things besides ample time to p[lay freely, and that filling his or her schedule with a litany of “enriching” activities can do more harm than good. And if you think that your child’s preschool is too focused on academic, try to find other options that offer more child-led play and nature experiences.”
I read this at just the right time! I am definitely an academic overachiever with plans for TyTy. And there is a lot of pressure to have kids writing their name in preschool and reading as soon as possible. This is great advice to let learning occur through play when children are young.
Leave No Trace Doesn’t Mean Don’t Play Outside
“I’d noticed in the US that some adults had taken the Leave No Trace principles to an extreme and sometimes lectured kids for infractions as small as collecting rocks or picking common flowers…Some researchers believe this strict interpretation of Leave No Trace can limit children’s opportunities to make meaningful connections with the natural world and may even exacerbate the perceived separation of humans and nature.”
As an avid hiker, I do believe in the Leave No Trace Movement including packing out what I pack in and not disturbing animal habitats. But I don’t get upset when I see inukshuks, I think they’re cool. I certainly would never be upset at a child for picking flowers or throwing rocks or picking up logs to see the bugs underneath.
With the growth of social media, a lot of hikers are very worried about the impact to the ecosystem as the number of people going outdoors increases. But this is a GOOD THING! We’ve become too disconnected from the outdoors and if we get too strict with rules it won’t be fun. When I see angry comments on photos of people wading in a creek, picking flowers (that aren’t in a protected area), or skipping rocks, I roll my eyes.
I grew up with complete freedom to play in the woods behind my house. We caught frogs (my dad released them after bed), rode our bikes on game trails, picked and ate raspberries, and played in ponds and creeks. Some people would be disgusted by this, saying we did damage to the ecosystem, but really, how much damage was really done? Enough for us to grow up inside or sticking to our little backyard only? No. And I think it was worth it to grow up outdoors.
These are just a few of the many wonderful points made throughout this book! I borrowed it from the library and need to order a copy to keep because I want to highlight and leave sticky notes on many parts of the book to refer back to.
Because of my amazing outdoor-based childhood, I’ve always know that it was my plan to raise my children the same way. It’s just so sad that it’s not a given anymore, parents have to actively work to ensure their children get enough time outdoors and in nature.
I think all parents and teachers should read this book. It’s also inspired me to put a bunch of other books about play and nature for child development in my library queue.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with these points?
Parents- what do you do to encourage your children to play outside?