Monday, September 19, 2005

Nature and Children

In answer to a query regarding a previous post:

I've read the first two chapters of "Last Child in the Woods" but have put it down for a bit, since I own it (a birthday gift), and other books I'm reading have library deadlines.

However, FOUR of the books I'm reading are about Alaska (I don't know exactly why Alaska's become so important to me but the effect is a sort of baptism of mind and soul.) These readings also direct my thoughts toward nature and questions about my children's (and my own) interaction with it.

I could say so much about this, but I'm still forming my opinions on the matter and searching for truth. Should we move our family somewhere as dramatic as Alaska or Africa to get free from the groping hands of consumerism and pop culture? Is it enough to move to a midwestern rural area? How about living 10 miles from a city, 5 miles from a shopping mall, one mile from a giant movie theater with an Imax screen and a strip mall, on an acre and a half, backing up to County forest? (This is what we have now.) Is that enough? Or should we move to the city to foster community and social responsibility and take intentional excursions into nature? Is a city park enough?

I don't know. But here is what I think about when I try to determine what to do for my boys if I have to stay just where I am forever.

I told Scott yesterday that I think connecting our children to the natural world is like connecting them to the Christian faith. By this I mean that if we raise them with the right ideas about either one but we never help them "fall in love" with what's at the center, they will have no use for nature or for God.

Marshall and Micah moan and groan about going outside and act in other suburb-sick ways that horrify me. We've kept them largely from computer games and almost entirely from television, but made the mistake of assuming they would latch on to the natural world in place of those things, as we did (I didn't even have a television during my childhood). Something is different in today's climate than it was 20 years ago. "Last Child in the Woods" I suspect is going to investigate that difference.

So we've got to introduce our kids to nature. Sometimes it works to just send them outside. But you'd be amazed how little my boys explore our 1.5 wooded acres. They stay on the concrete and play with legos.

Some helpful books:

"Sharing Nature With Children" by Joseph Cornell - This is full of ideas for outdoor activities in all seasons. One involves lying down on a pine forest floor and covering yourself with pine needles. I picked this up at a used bookstore and was delighted with it. Apparently there is a "SNWC II" but I haven't read it.

Charlotte Mason's Home education series talks about nature and children and introduces the idea of a "Nature Notebook" to encourage early observation and drawing (or painting) of outdoor life. Finding Charlotte Mason used to be difficult, but Susan Schaeffer Macaulay resurrected Mason's educational ideas in her book "For the Children's Sake".

"A Pocketful of Pinecones" by Karen Andreola - this is a whole book about Charlotte Mason's nature ideas. The writing is kind of cheesy, as it takes the form of a 1930's Mother's diary (I think it's hard to do fictional diaries well). But thankfully Andreola wasn't trying to write great literature, only to communicate some great ideas in a way accessible to most mothers, and she accomplishes this.

One of the most helpful things I've learned about nature walks is to walk in silence. It's counter-intuitive because we feel like we always need to give our kids "information" if we want them to appreciate something. But I've seen this many times with my boys- the more I talk the less they observe. And when I'm silent the wind and earth and trees seem to knead at their souls and make them pliable.

Children also need to learn to identify and understand what they see when they are out being quiet in nature. I've got a great "Handbook of Nature Study" by Anna Botsford Comstock. In the beginning chapter she discusses why and how to teach nature lessons to children and in fact, the book consists of 232 lessons.

Field guides are wonderful- one or another of my boys and I often look up a visitor to our front garden feeder in our "Birds of North America" guide. I also picked up an unusual book called "Hand Taming Wild Birds at the Feeder" which we have yet to delve into in spite of Eliot's eagerness to "have a bird land on my hand".

LOL. I have so many ideas. It's a shame my emotional constitution is so weak- I almost want to homeschool again until I remember how close to insanity I was.


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laura said...

Rae-If you move to Alaska I will be really sad. You already live far away. Alaska can get deathly cold in the winters. I don't think you'd like that much.

Btw, weren't you ready to pull out your hair when you were homeschooling?? Yeah, please don't do that:)

Rachael said...

Laura- Well, like you said, I'm already far away. And I love cold.

As for home-schooling: it wasn't driving me insane; I was insane and I was trying to drive it.

Michael Ciani said...

For the love of God, someone please publish this girl!

Rae, it is good that you are the child-bearing one of the TenBrink children, at least thus far. You have a way of digging into life and not letting go that far supercedes mine. You are downright tenacious at trying to pass along a love for what you value as good in life to your children. I admire that so much.

I'm still open to having a kid, but not on my own, that's for sure. Hopefully a year from now I'll be all settled down with some fine boy and we'll be talking kids. Or at least a dog. Surely we could handle a dog, right?

Someone publish my sister!!! And someone let me sleep so I stop making crazy comments on my sister's blog.

Rachael said...

I swear I'm not paying my brother to promote me (and if I were I'd be stupid because about five people read this blog).

Michael- thank you. Your words are kind. But remember that written words about life don't prove anything about the writer's *actual* life.

Michael Ciani said...

If you were paying me to promote you, you wouldn't be stupid; I would simply be a really bad promoter!

It is unfortunate that written words about life don't prove anything about actual life. If they did, imagine what a marvelous world this would be. Unfortunately, we live in actual life.