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Sunday, September 25, 2016

How To Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature, by Scott D. Sampson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2015. $22.95

"... a first big step in deepening children's connection with nature is for you to start noticing it. If you don't pay any attention to the natural world, it's doubtful that your children will. So when you step outside in the morning, instead of rushing to the car, pause for a moment. Feel and smell the air. Check out the clouds and trees. Listen to the birds; how many different kinds of song can you hear?"

Now is the perfect time to get started on creating a wild child! There is so much for children to see outside as summer turns to fall, and Dr. Scott Sampson makes a compelling case for the importance of kids making a connection to the nature that is part of their world.

Using research studies to show the benefits that we all get from being in nature (less stress, better immunity, and improved concentration), he walks his audience through three themes to being more aware of our natural settings which will, in turn, encourage all of us to be more likely to protect these places: experience, mentoring and understanding.

We all need to be outdoors more often, taking part in hands-on activities that have more beneficial results than learning on screen. These jaunts don't need to be mind-blowing. Many can take place in backyards and parks. As a mentor to our children and their children, we need to show a genuine interest in learning alongside them: "Being an effective mentor means becoming a co-conspirator, a fellow explorer, a chaser of clues.” Finally, we can show we value understanding by helping them see how everything connects in the natural world, and that they are a part of it. He doesn't want to completely ignore the benefits of technology, suggesting apps for using GPS in treasure hunts, watching the birds in the area, and identifying plants as nature walks are taken.

If we want our kids to be involved, we need to be there with them. Most of Scott Sampson's writing for this book is devoted to practical suggestions and advice to parents and communities to “Get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries!” We can all be mentors, by acting as 'teacher questioner, and trickster'. We need to remember that: “When a child asks a question and you know the answer, it’s natural to want to share it. Providing the answer makes us feel good and we presume that kids really want to know. But this inclination can lead us astray. Often times, our response ends the interaction by cutting off curiosity. Counterintuitively, children are often looking for our engagement more than our answers, hoping that the focus of their attention will become ours too.”

 Each of the ideas for connecting with nature are practical and real. They are also simple and easily applied. One of my favorites is the suggestion to have kids start 'sit spotting':

"Sit spot allows you to get to know one little place in intimate detail. What kids of plants and animals live here? When are you most likely to see and hear the various critters?  How does this place change over the course of the day, and through the seasons? Eventually, your sit spot becomes an intimate friend you look forward to being with. And that friend has potential to be your greatest mentor in deepening nature connection. Guided by your sit spot, you'll develop a quiet mind and learn how to open your senses, both critical to being an adept mentor."

 It takes concentrated effort and a concern for the well-being of each one of us: most of all, our children. Our kids will be interested if we are. That's a pretty compelling argument, isn't it?

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