I'm going to take you on a walk down the school hallways of my childhood.
In kindergarten I remember that our teacher gave us a hug every day when we left to go home at lunch time. In first grade there was a boy who always wanted to sit on top of his desk and he was constantly getting in trouble for it. In second grade we grew meal worms into beetles right on our desktops. In third grade I played "James" in our classrooms James and the Giant Peach play. In fourth grade we all cried on the carpet at the end of "Where the Red Fern Grows". In fifth grade we did mini-society.
In sixth grade I wore a sweater with a bunch of small sweaters knitted on it that I'd gotten for Christmas from one of my aunts and one of the kids in my class asked if my mom still dressed me. In seventh grade I made a wooden duck on a stick in shop class but I drilled the hole too deep into the base and the whole thing fell through when I lifted it up to show my teacher. That was my first C. In eighth grade I took geometry. It was our teacher's first year teaching that subject and I have vivid memories of her consistently turning the class over to one of the students (who was brilliant) when she got stuck. In high school, I took a lifeguarding class that met first hour so I would often get dressed with my swimsuit underneath my clothes in the morning before school. One day I forgot to pack a pair of underwear for after class. That situation didn't pair well with the overalls I had with me that day. The only option I had was to wear my wet bathing suit underneath my overalls to my remaining five classes, where I left all of my seats damp when the bells rang.
There are a smattering of other memories for sure. Some great and some involving peeing my pants during a chess tournament or the discovery of a colony of lice in my hair by the school nurse. I would imagine your story is somewhat similar, high moments and low ones with all sorts in between. School certainly has a huge hand in shaping who we are. With a main focus on academics, a good school career can help children successfully enter the world of college or work and beyond.
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!Safety is a main concern for parents when it comes to spending time outside. Studies continue to show that the safest thing you can do for children is to allow them to experience reasonable risk outdoors. Kids who spend a lot of time outside get ample opportunities to learn the subtle nuances of movement and balance. They get lots of opportunities to stretch their ligaments by exploring uneven terrain. They are able to strengthen their bones through impact movements like jumping. In the long-run, a more sure-footed and stable child will be safer despite the occasional scrapes and bruises along the way.
That said, we do keep a first aid kit with us at all times. We have tried several different types over the years and have landed on the First Aid Only Kit. It comes in a convenient carrying bag that has had (almost) everything we've ever needed. We like that it is compact enough to throw in a backpack, purse, or under a stroller. We even bought an extra kit to have in the house so that we can quickly grab it when needed.
There are only four things that we have added to our on-the-go first aid kit. When it comes to adventuring with kids I find these are essential. Bonus: they all fit perfectly into the zippered case keeping all of our first-aid items particularly handy!
When my father-in-law talks about the street he grew up on you want to be able to travel back in time and join in. There were 87 kids between the first 12 houses on either side. A mere five to six decades ago afternoons were inundated with neighbor kids and outside play. Today it's all too easy to be overrun with Netflix and structured after-school activities.
Long before my husband and I started a family of our own we noticed that every time we drove past a play set in a yard we never saw a child on one. Not once. The catalogs show them teaming with kids but the ones in real life sit like little ghost towns. The impetus for the 1000 Hours Outside challenge to begin with was because we spent thousands of hours over the course of a few years in the local woods and never ran into another child. Sometimes my mom would join us on our adventures and the thing she asked most was, "Where are all the children?"
Change is interesting. Like the story of the frog that slowly gets boiled in a pot of water as the heat increases incrementally, gradual change can often go unnoticed. But this is monumental change. It is a completely different approach to childhood and it has happened quickly. The shift from hours of unstructured activities and free play outside to hours of screens and adult-directed extracurriculars represents a central piece of the childhood development puzzle that was accidentally discarded and then thrown away.
For so long you are a mom in the trenches, trying to make it from dawn to dinner and then recoup a little bit before nighttime parenting. But then, almost like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, you emerge on the other side, with a child who has keen and unique interests. An early childhood filled with nature immersion gives way to fascinations that are interdisciplinary and that leave the door wide open for the kind of learning we are desire, deep learning about the things that thrill us about life. In our family we have an avid fisher girl, a rock hound, an animal conservationist, and a budding botanist. Even our youngest, who just turned three, seems to have a particular bent toward farm animals. Mind you, these interests are completely self-directed, they are strong, and they emerged long before the teenage years.
Each nature subject is ripe with extensive, cross-disciplinary learning opportunities and observations. Following the child's lead as it comes to learning looks considerably different from the linear, checklist type approach. As interests unfold organically we can begin to source our children with beautiful books, engaging experiences, and teachers who have emerged because of their passions. You might look for a lapidary society, a fishing group, or a 4H club. You might rub shoulders with a few local farmers at the nearest farmers market. In every area of interest, you will find ardent people from all walks and stages of life, teachers who are qualified because of desire instead of degrees.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we committed to a research-backed childhood where nature immersion is a mainstay part of our schedule. Just like in nature, the sun and the dirt have provided slow and steady growth for our children, with deep roots formed and breathtaking blossoms of individuality springing up. If I could do early childhood all over again, I would do it all over again in the exact same way. We are in the midst of a truly grand childhood, as nature has given to each of our young ones what he or she has needed to grow, develop, learn and love life.
Yes! A resounding yes because a significant amount of daily outside free play is imperative for proper growth and development. But I definitely think we should frame it up a different way. The way in which we structure the ins and outs of our family life impacts the future of our kids. Small changes in routine can add up to momentous gains for our children.
Think about the way you currently format your days and your week. Do you make regular trips to the library? Do you often snuggle up on the couch and read stories? Do you try and stock your fridge with some nutritious food options? Do you assign your kids some chores? Do certain portions of your day have a pattern and a flow?
We can add in outdoor free play in just the same way! A few evenings a weeks you could go on a family walk after dinner. Once a weekend you could pencil in a new hike. For kids that are more resistant you may have to try out a few different types of activities. Especially for older children, the opportunities to get active outside are endless. You could try fly-fishing, skateboarding, rock climbing, hammocking, gardening, and the list goes on. Younger kids are usually content anywhere as long as the conditions are tolerable and especially if they have a few friends along.
Consider the impact of a weekly hike or a specific evening designated for frisbee in the front yard woven into the lifelong memory of a child. We can build nature time into our lives just like how we build in other good habits. In this way we change the tone of the activity and time in nature becomes an exciting, dependable, and meaningful part of the landscape of childhood.
I read all the parenting books. I babysat and worked in the church nursery when I was a teenager. Heck, I used to be a kid myself. But as it turns out, I actually had no idea what parenthood would really be like. Pregnancy can be a time of growth and preparation with ample time for reading and researching, but when that baby arrives the roller coaster begins, and it may be years before the ride starts to slow down. During the years when children are small and growing rapidly it can be hard to sort out all of the changes.
The thing about my children that has left me slack-jawed the most is how much they develop on their own accord. Certainly we are all aware that we don't need to give any sort of crawling or walking lessons. Toddlers don't need formal language lessons as they learn to master an entirely new language solely through conversation. Did you know this rapid and deeply effective learning can continue throughout childhood (and even throughout life)?
Let me tell you a story about our oldest son. We didn't start any formal reading lessons with him until he was seven. By all current standards, this is a late start but our methodology was based on some sound principles. This approach worked and within a few short months of 15 minute reading lessons, he was reading chapter books and he hasn't stopped reading since. He takes a book with him wherever we go.
Not long after learning to read we were at a nature center several states away. Before heading out on our hike, one of the nature center employees told us to pay close attention when we were near the main building because they had spotted a certain type of snake there several times over the past week or so. Personally, I'd never even heard of the type of snake she mentioned and within a few minutes had completely lost the name of it altogether. But my son, who was just months into reading, began to spout off all sorts of facts about this snake. He knew where they were native to, what they looked like, how long they grew, the types of things they ate, and so on.
I was astonished. And I was humbled. As adults, it feels good to take credit for our kid's learning but the thing I have learned most about learning is that it seems to happen best when it happens away from my control. Yes, kids can and do learn in a classroom environment. Yes, our world is full of incredible teachers (including parents) but the best teacher it seems, is our own personal feedback loop.
It is inevitable that, over the length of a summer vacation, kids will irritate their parents (and their caregivers, and their siblings, and so forth). Kids are busy with important work. They are pruning their brains for maximum efficiency. They are discovering the world and themselves. The work of a child involves an immense amount of sensory input. All of this means that kids require a lot, more than one adult can reasonably give.
Because of a child's high energy and significant requirements for growth, it is easy and understandable that we grow weary of them. It's that weariness that gives rise to the celebratory nature of the back-to-school type posts where parents seem in their glory to drop their children off into the care of others for a majority of the day. The saying, "Having children is like being pecked to death by a duck" pertains here.
As a homeschool mama of five I'm going to let you in on the secret to not wishing the days away with your kids. Homeschooling is 24/7/365 with children. There is no "light at the end of the tunnel" so to say. I assure you that homeschool moms are not more patient than other moms nor are homeschool kids more docile than other kids.
The key to creating a life (or a summer) with children that you don't want to escape from lies in honoring the physical, biological, emotional and social needs of the child. These needs are drastically different than our needs. We learn through words. They learn through experience. We have completed the synaptic pruning that continues on through early adulthood and they are just at the beginning stages. We have had decades to try increasingly intricate movements, whereas a child has only had a few years.
I remember just like it was yesterday when I taught our youngest how to crawl. When she was around five or six months I took her to the best crawling school and supplemented with the most comprehensive curriculum at home. It was expensive but worth it because - it totally worked! They told me exactly how many times she would need to get up on all fours and rock back and forth before she moved her first hand out. We practiced for a few hours every afternoon and it didn't take long before she was a total pro! Time and money well spent!
All joking aside, can we take a moment to marvel at the developmental progress of young children? Babies who don't even know what day of the week it is, somehow know exactly what comes next in their stage of development and they know exactly how to progress through it. There isn't an adult on the planet who could structure a course of instruction for an infant better than the one they structure themselves. And yet, we tend to take over the teaching of children at such young ages. Enrollment in programs that exist in order to enhance child development start so early.
What happens to children when most of their day becomes dictated by adults? Well, they might become squirmy. That's because kids innately know that they need to move! Movement is the precursor to all learning. A child who gets his or her head out of an upright position will actually wake up the brain. Consider the stark differences between sitting still at a desk or sitting upright during circle time on the floor versus rolling down a grassy hill or hanging upside down from a set of monkey bars. Which of those activities are children innately drawn to? We take over the learning process so young that we forget how much children bring to the table as it relates to their own advancement.
Increasingly complex movements grow the brain, beginning in utero and right on through old age. The stat below from the book Smart Moves is astounding and fully displays the power of challenging our bodies with complicated motion! Children, given the appropriate time and space, will progress all on their own from rolling to crawling to walking to running to jumping to skipping to leaping to balancing to tree climbing, and so on.
Most days my kids ask to use screens and I understand the draw. I had visions of possibly being a screen free family but we didn't pull the plug soon enough and so our kids have grown up with occasional cartoons and video games.
Here is something I know with 100% certainty: If there is ever a time when my kids are on a screen device and the neighborhood kids happen to ring the doorbell, the screens are immediately shut off and our kids go careening out the door. It then becomes hard to get them back inside even for meals!
Almost two decades ago the company Quantified Impressions did some research on eye contact. This Texas-based communications analytics company concluded that children between the ages of 10 and 17 will experience nearly one-third fewer face-to-face interactions with other people throughout their lifetimes as a result of an increasingly electronic culture, at home and in school. This study was done in the year 2000, seven years before the release of the first iPhone.
Eye contact is critical and it is directly related to connection. The more eye contact that is made, the deeper the connections and vice versa. There is no telling what the ramifications of experiencing one third less eye contact over a lifetime are. It would be realistic to assume that this number has increased as screens have become more ubiquitous since the year 2000.
Screens certainly offer a fun past time. I have a favorite video game (Ratchet and Clank), a favorite television series (Survivor), and a favorite movie (Home Alone) but when the opportunity arises to choose experiences with friends such as a camping trip over screens, there is not doubt as to what I would choose.
In generations past parents depended upon the genuine human relationships that existed within the neighborhood in order to have enough time to accomplish daily tasks. No single human being or parenting duo has the capacity to juggle all the plates while simultaneously entertaining children. A job that used to be outsourced to the kids that lived around the block for portions of each day was handed back to parents who don't have the margin for it.
75% of the time we spend with our kids in our lifetime will be spent
75% of the time we spend with our kids in our lifetime will be spent by age 12.
Every year at the start of the summer vacation I see all sorts of posts about the 18 summers we get with our kids. The intention of these posts is exactly the same as mine. They are a reminder that we need to fight to slow down and to simplify. We need to pray for perspective on the days that drag on. We need to put down the screens and connect.
While our intentions may be the same I fully disagree with the number. Maybe those who write articles about the 18 summers with our kids still have only little ones at home. Maybe they have forgotten the summers when they turned 15 and then 16 and were able to drive and have jobs. There is a significant developmental shift that happens during childhood around age 12 (occasionally earlier) and with that often comes a change in family dynamics. Summers begin to have a different look and then eventually parents and siblings become more of a background object, a less integral piece of the puzzle.
Ginny. Mother of 5. Homeschooling in The Mitten State.
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