Young children have mega-important work to do. Our work as adults, which is also important, involves provision, household management, and the delicate art of building a family. The work of a child is to develop who they are in every facet. Some might argue there is no more important work than this.
During early childhood, the brain will increase in size to 80% of its adult weight. At the same time, the number of synapses will decrease dramatically. Synaptic pruning is an extremely important part of childhood development because it effects how efficient our brain is long-term.
It's easy to see children as a never ending ball of energy (and even annoyance). It's also easy to forget that the work they need to do is critical and crucial, even though it doesn't pay the bills.
Children are biologically driven to develop and they need the right input in order to do so. Much of what we may experience as frustration with small children is simply their burning drive and desire for the sensory input they need.
Research continues to show that children need substantial amounts of quality time in nature. They need to explore their environment. They need to touch and to feel and to taste and to smell. They need to dream, imagine and experience. The work of pruning synapses and developing the different senses is significant work.
There is much to be learned from each other. Even though large corporations spend millions (billions?) of marketing dollars each year trying to influence how we live, we can have an even greater impact on the world by sharing our lives and sharing our stories. Today we are highlighting Rachel Tidd of Wild Math Curriculum and her family. New voices bring new inspiration. Read on to meet the Tidd Family and prepare to be deeply inspired! Their story matters. Your story matters. We can change our world for our kids with a little more nature and a little less screens. - Ginny
1. Tell us a little bit about your family. How many kids do you have? What is your daily life like? What are you passionate about?
My name is Rachel and I live in Ithaca, NY with my husband and two boys. Finn is 9 years old and Taro is 6 years old. We live in a log house on a few wooded acres. We are a homeschooling family. We are lucky that we live in an area with a big homeschooling community including a full day homeschool outdoor program that both kids love! We enjoy hiking and exploring the forests, gorges, waterfalls, and lakes in our area. I am the author of Wild Math Curriculum Guides which is a math curriculum designed for the outdoors.
2. The average American kid spends 4-7 minutes outside a day. What factors do you think contribute to such a low number? What challenges does a parent faces when trying to increase time in nature?
I think the lack of outdoor recess time in schools is a big factor. Before having children, I was a public school teacher. Most schools have recess outside, but often it is canceled due to rain, snow or cold. This adds up to a lot of time lost and many, many school days that kids do not go outside during the whole day! If kids had or schools provided proper outdoor gear I think we could significantly increase the outdoor time during the school day. Most schools I worked at only had about 20-30 minutes for recess. Having more than one recess time during the day would also be amazing!
Screen time, afterschool activities, work schedules also are big challenges for the average parent trying to getting outside!
Have you heard that some schools have banned the good ol’ fashioned game of tag? Unknowingly, and certainly not on purpose, children are “tagging” each other with too much force, causing playmates to get hurt during the game.
It's easy to forget about the little things kids need to learn in childhood beyond book work. There’s so much focus on the ABCs and the 123s that sometimes the developmental things, like how much force to use during certain activities, slip by us. These untestable skills hold their merit. As adults we need to know how much force is acceptable in a hand-shake and how that force differs from what’s needed to use a hammer. These are not things we innately know. They must be learned!
But how do we learn how much force to use anyways? Throughout childhood, kids will become adept at using their bodies correctly through interaction with the environment. Through the push and pull and the give and the take children experience out in nature, they will naturally develop all of their EIGHT senses. Eight you say? Aren’t there only five? I know I only learned about five in school, but it turns out there are three more and they all have super cool names.
Who wants to track one more thing? You do!! Nature time for kids is so valuable for childhood development that we cannot leave this extremely important element of childhood to chance.
People often ask, "Where's the app?" There isn't one! There are many time tracking apps available out there that you could use but we keep track with a good ole' piece of paper and (colored) pencil. Keeping our single sheet out and visible is a great reminder for us to get outside and the kids love to see our progress visually!
We've been parents for a little over a decade but the combined lives of our five children represent about 36 years of childhood. In the fall of 2011 we began spending around 1000 hours outside each calendar year and since then we've never needed even one doctors appointment for any type of illness. Our kids have gotten sick here and there but their bodies have always bounced back quickly. Our situation is anecdotal but there are several scientific reasons explaining how nature play boosts the immune system.
Outside kids move considerably more than inside kids and movement gets the lymphatic system pumping. The lymphatic system helps clean all the nasty stuff out of our bodies and in doing so, gives the immune system a boost. Without the movement of the lymph fluid throughout the body, all of the toxins and viruses just hang around inside the body. Sending your child outside for a few hours will eventually lead to some vigorous play, just what the lymphatic system needs to start working!
Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don't get hurt
My mom jokes around that this should have been her mother's anthem. These words ring true, at least to some degree, in the heart of every parent. Keeping our children safe is one of our primary tasks. It can be downright terrifying at times to watch our children branch out into the world.
Sometimes however, our valiant efforts to keep our kids free from any bodily harm in the short term, can lead to some significant consequences in the long term. We mistakingly think that by providing a risk-free life, we are saving our kids from hurt. We are unaware that a risk-free childhood doesn't provide children with the physical and mental feedback they need for proper growth and development.
One thing we have observed with our children over the past seven years of nature immersion is how quickly they become sure-footed. Our rule of thumb in nature has been to allow them to try what they are able to try. For example, if they are physically able to climb up onto a large rock, then we let them. But if a younger sibling is trying to copy an older sibling and can't pull something off, we don't attempt to help. We simply say, "You'll be able to do that when you are older."
Kids are smart. They don't want to get hurt. Remember the innate sense your child had as an infant to progressively move from one complex movement to the next in slow increments? When a baby goes from rolling, to pushing up, to rocking, and then finally to crawling, they get some bonks along the way. This feedback, though momentarily painful, is imperative to building this proper sequence of movements.
Since time outside provides multi-faceted physical, social, mental, emotional, relational, and developmental benefits we are intentional about scheduling nature time into our week. Research shows time and again that we need quality nature time and we need lots of it! We risk shortchanging our children if we don't allow enough space in our calendars for them to move their bodies outside on a regular basis.
People often ask how are we able to spend these extended periods of time outside with our kids. Many have commented that they just can't make it that long. Spending large chunks of time outside will fill childhood up with movement and with memories! Here are five tips to help lengthen your outside play.
1) Start with a hike.
When you are in the middle of a hike you are stuck in nature. There's no getting around it. You have to finish and so starting with a hike is our top tip! Take your hike before playground time or hitting the beach. If you choose a hike that is along a river or has some other changes of scenery it will better capture your children's attention and help lengthen your time outside.
The pressure to give our kids an academic edge seems to begin right after the pregnancy test comes back positive. Once pregnancy is confirmed, it's immediately time for high quality fish oil supplements and for specialized belly headphones that we can play classical music through! The pressure seems to continue all the way through childhood with an endless list of activities and opportunities we could enroll our kids in, many of which seem like eventual college resume builders. Should we do lil' kickers soccer at 18 months, preschool at two, dance at three, gymnastic at four? In elementary school should we add karate, girl scouts, violin lessons, art class, after school tutoring, and more?!
Throughout childhood there will be many voices encouraging you to enroll and each enrollment will certainly have some merit. What you probably won't feel is much pressure to play outside. It isn't a huge money maker, so there aren't many advertising it's worth. And yet, the childhood developmental benefits of outside play are extensive in every realm. Before you succumb to the pressure to enroll in it all, check out these five books! Each one is a powerful, yet gentle reminder of the merits of simplistic outside play. Bonus: Playing outside is usually inexpensive, fun, and easily accessible!
Balanced and Barefoot, How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children by Angela J. Hanscom
Depending upon our walk in life, there are certain trends we do not see. Physical and occupational therapists are on the front lines of the trends in childhood development. What they are observing is immensely important for parents to know. It's easy to gloss over childhood play as a frivolous use of time and yet children are experiencing many delays simply due to not getting enough time to move their bodies in nature.
Angela J. Hanscom is a pediatric occupational therapist who has gone beyond seeing the problem of many developmental delays in children to coming up with a solution! She is the founder of Timbernook - an award-winning developmental and nature-based play program for children. From front cover to back cover, you will learn from and be inspired by her book, Balanced and Barefoot! The extent to which nature play helps our children is mouth-dropping. Balanced and Barefoot is an easy, enjoyable and encouraging read!
"...movement through active free play - particularly in the outdoors - is absolutely the most beneficial gift we as parents, teachers, and caregivers can bestow on our children to ensure healthy bodies, creative minds, academic success, emotional stability, and strong social skills." - Angela J. Hanscom, Balanced and Barefoot
I vividly remember learning about the five senses when I was child. I remember doing worksheets that seemed extremely silly because the five senses seemed so intuitive. The worksheet might've said something like, "Which sense are you using when you inhale the scent of a rose?" I think because it was all so obvious, I have distinct memories of learning about it in school.
To my surprise, within the last few years I learned there are actually seven senses. Who knew? These are the ones we should've learned about in school. Their names are nothing straightforward like touch, smell, sight, taste and hearing. The sixth and seventh senses are the vestibular sense and proprioception. Even just the sounds of the words make them intriguing to learn about!
This post will be mainly about the vestibular sense and why developing a child's vestibular sense should be a primary motivator for getting your kids in nature more often. I'll write about proprioception another time but just so I don't leave you hanging, proprioception deals with sensing what your different body parts are doing without looking at them.
The vestibular sense, also known as the balance sense, is the awareness of your body is space. The name comes from the word vestibule. This sense is quite literally a hallway to the brain. This hallway begins to develop in utero at just two months after conception. The vestibular sense is completely formed around five months after conception and movement in the womb will contribute to its development! The vestibular sense is the first fully functioning sensory system to develop!
In the sea of activities available to children and families the simple act of stepping outside to play can easily get lost. Who has time for playing in the yard when there are dances to be rehearsed, homework to be finished, music notes to be played, and soccer drills to run? Yet surprisingly, research shows that the cheap and simple act of playing outside offers the most developmental and health benefits for our children.
Our journey at 1000 Hours Outside is to provide insight into a different way to do family life, where nature time is often chosen before other activities. Through highlighting the litany of benefits that accompany breathing in outdoor air we hope to encourage and motivate your family to make nature time a priority.
Whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.
But why 1,000 hours?
Ginny. Mother of 5. Homeschooling in The Mitten State.