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Last Child in the Woods ~ Chapter 5, 6, and 7

I promise I have read these chapters, but I have been pretty distracted the past week with helping my sister paint, kids' activities, my husband's birthday, and our anniversary weekend.

So I'm going to go back through what I have read, and my sticky notes, to tell you about the things that stood out to me in Chapters 5, 6, and 7. Really, I just spent the majority of those chapters reminiscing about my childhood play times, and how I know that my kids to do not have the same experiences I had. It's not that they don't have the room, or nature opportunities to explore. It's just that it's a different world with different distractions, the majority of which being electronic.

Chapter 5. A Life of the Senses: Nature vs. the Know-It-All State of Mind. "I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more." ~ John Burroughs

Do you see nature being "packaged" for our pleasure in the commercial world as more the norm these days than us just seeking nature in our own free-flowing way? I definitely do ... buying mood cd's to hear the sounds of birds and blowing leaves, instead of stepping outside to listen to the birds and blowing leaves. We prefer to have things given to us instead of observing them on our own. But how sad and institutional! I took a rest this afternoon at the cottage where we are staying and just listened to the birds sing. It was lovely, and soothing! I felt my senses being stimulated. A cd of chirping birds would have just been noise.

I thought it was interesting that on Page 67 it discusses how medical schools are having troubles teaching how the heart pumps because as kids the students had "never siphoned anything, never fixed a car, never worked on a fuel pump, may not even have hooked up a garden hose." I know that when I have a lesson to teach my kids, especially when it's part of  a packaged unit study, I am often directed to have my kids watch a video clip on the computer. And I HATE that .. every single time. This inspires me to look for real world ways to demonstrate things FIRST HAND to my kids, so that they can engage all of their senses, instead of just sight and sound.

Chapter 6. The "Eighth Intelligence"

My recollections of exploring as a kid are VIVID! I can see what I was doing, smell it, feel it, and hear it. If I had just knocked down a big icicle, I could even taste it. I was often IN my environment, getting wet and/or dirty. I was climbing up, and crawling under. Other than going down into the creek where my mom thought we would surely kill ourselves, I never heard my mom say, "Don't do that ... be careful!" Yes, sometimes I got cuts or scrapes or bruises from exploring. But I was feeling my surroundings.

My greatest childhood memories were the neighborhood kids coming over to the lot next to our house to play baseball, or to gather to ride bikes, or to work on the treehouse (we will talk more about this in a minute). My most friendship-bonding moments were in shoveling snow with my youth group friends in junior high. "It was enough just to be together." And I felt such closeness with my elderly neighbors when sitting on their back porch with them. You know, we would just walk in their house anytime we wanted to. Even our dog was allowed in and out. I haven't experienced that kind of friendship since then, I don't think.

Contrast this with my kids' experiences. Yeah, those things aren't happening. I protect, guide, even micro-manage their play time, especially with whom they play. Freedom does not exist. I can't imagine allowing my children to just run in and out of any of our neighbors' homes, whenever they wanted. Because, we don't really know our neighbors. And a lot of time when we do, we wish we didn't.

The Treehouse. When I was a girl, there was a tree in a lot kind of behind our house. The boys in the neighborhood built a crude treehouse. They did it on their own with scrap wood and nails. It had a rope, trap door, etc. Page 80 of the book talks about the natural learning of the laws of physics and engineering that took place during those times. The treehouse wasn't purchased from Lowe's with pre-cut wood and screws packaged together that dad put together "the right way". No, they just figured it out. And it was a good treehouse. Girls weren't allowed in that treehouse, so we spent out time trying to figure out ways to get in it. When is the last time you saw a child's handmade treehouse? As the book says, now all you see are skeletons of ones from our childhood.

As kids we made a fort out of anything we could get in or under. In my back yard, there was a line of bushes, and a large bush at the end of the line that was close enough, but not too close, that I could crawl in under it. It was my special place.

Have you asked your kids where their special place is? I bet they don't have one (I bet my kids don't). And, if they do, I bet it involves a screen of some sort.

It's sad. If you experienced these things as a kid, then you know they are missing out.

I briefly mentioned how my mom didn't spend all her time yelling to me outside to be careful, and how I micro-manage my kids' playtime. How many times can you recall learning through failure? Today's parents (me included) try to shield our kids from any discomforts. I guess that's our instinct as parents. But the book points out on page 82, and I believe, that we are doing our children a great disservice. This chapter talks a lot about Ben Franklin. If he had been stopped from deep exploration, and even many mistakes, we might not have electricity today.

I am trying to get better about this with my kids. Just the other night, Eli was riding a three-wheeler down the driveway. Those things make me frantic because I am so scared of injury. But Rick told me that he kind of lost control of it at one point and it spun around in a fast circle on the back wheels, that are casters. Eli was a little scared at first, but then realized that by losing control, by making a mistake, he had just experienced something exciting! So, he did it over and over again. Without a mistake, he would have missed that opportunity. If I had been outside, I probably would have stopped him before he made the mistake, for fear he would hurt himself. Lesson learned.

Chapter 7. The Genius of Childhood: How Nature Nurtures Creativity. "I played around our yard some and talked to the fence posts, sung songs and made the weeds sing ..." ~ Woody Guthrie

Have you thought about the difference between blacktop and green space play? At our playground when we were in elementary school, there was the blacktop with all the play equipment and there was the large grassy area with, well, grass. When you have something organized to play with, you play with it. When you have nothing but grass, you have to get creative. That, alone, confirms the theory that natural play increases levels of creativity.

And this chapter, again, refers to children just being allowed to TRY things, even if there is a chance of failure. Thomas Edison's uncle told him, once, "If no one ever tried anything, even what some folks say is impossible, no one would ever learn anything. So you just keep on trying and maybe some day you'll try something that will work." Or, as Dory put it on Finding Nemo, "Well, you can't never let anything happen to him, then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo."


So, what have I learned? Let my kids try. Let my kids fail. Let them explore their world and learn from it with ALL of their senses. Encourage the use of their senses.

What did you bring away from your reading?

Leave me comment, with a link to your blog post if you have one. I hope you are enjoying your reading.

For next week, let's just read Chapter 8. I will be gone from Wednesday through Sunday, so won't have devote to this. And, that chapter is pretty meaty. AND, it's the last chapter of the second section of the book. It seems like a good breaking point.


  1. Oh, I can relate to your feelings about Eli and the ATV! My girl was learning to drive my sister's manual transmission ATV Quad this past week. What 10-year-old know how to shift an ATV? LOL I was a nervous wreck...but I decided instead to have her TEACH ME how to drive it. She got a kick out of that...and I could tell that she knew how to operate it properly AND was doing so responsibly without having to freak out on her! LOL

    I also think nature is "packaged", but also that it can't been fun and exciting without mountain bikes and expensive boats and other THINGS that commercials show. It's rare that you see a commercial now that just shows a child swinging or running or building a simple sand castle or daydreaming in a hammock. It's all about THINGS in nature...and I don't mean animals and plants. LOL

  2. Nicely put, Nicole, especially about the neighbours when were kids vs now. I still remember meeting a childhood friend for the first time when he walked in our back door with his guitar and challenged me to a play-off. My mum didn't bat an eye at the strange child strolling in, or at me leaving with him, carrying my guitar, to go play in the field. I try to keep that feeling in mind when my kids want to do something, but like you said it's a different world.

    I try not to overdirect their play in general and outdoor play in particular, because they never fail to amaze with with their creativity and independent thought!

  3. Here is my post for the week.


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