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Last Child in the Woods ~ Chapter 9, 10, and 11

We now embark on Part III of the book titled "The Best of Intentions: Why Johnnie and Jeannie Don't Play Outside Anymore".

Chapter 9. Time and Fear. I can honestly say that at times I feel selfish and lazy. I value my free time so much that I don't look for ways to schedule my kids' activities because I don't want to be scheduled. But in my heart I know that it's more than that. It angers me to see parents so hell-bent on their kids being sports stars or honor students or nationally-ranked band prodigies, or in other words, perfect at something. I often believe that it's the parents wanting themselves to look good and get attention at the expense of their kids. I have shocked parents when I say that I don't care if my kids go to college. I want my kids to do what they are passionate about and what makes them happy so that they won't dread getting out of bed in the mornings. If they can accomplish that without a college education, so be it. Instead, I try to help my kids dig deep to find what their interests are and find a way to work toward making that a career.

Okay, on to the chapter.

On Page 117 is says, "It takes time -- loose, unstructured dreamtime -- to experience nature in a meaningful way." Even Eli has it figured out at age 8. On Wednesday we had a scheduled school day because of a local traveling exhibit. At the end of the day he said, "It's summer! We aren't supposed to go anywhere!" What he meant was, "It's my time off, and I want to stay home and have some time to play."

Maybe my kids love unstructured, free time because Rick and I do not place an emphasis on scheduled activities. Page 118 supports this theory by stating, "A central concern [of students interviewed] is how parents model their own use of time -- their attitude about where time fits into their busy lives." The particular student being interviewed was talking about how a snow day bums out most adults with it's inconveniences, instead of exciting them as to the wonder and fun of a snow day. I happen to be one of those parents who LOVES snow days! In fact, a couple of winters ago we were POUNDED with snow and the kids missed two weeks of school. I was in heaven. We played and played and played and played some more. We will not waste such a fun opportunity!

Natural and free play has been so greatly diminished by the pressures of sports activities, various lessons, and school work. I can honestly say that there were several days this year when I would allow Eli to NOT do his homework (he was still in public school) and would send a note to his teacher telling her that Eli just needed an evening to play. I cannot deal with the requirements that a second grader, who has sat in school for 7 hours already, must come home and do up to an hour (or sometimes more) of homework.

I thought this statistic on Page 119 was interesting ... "Typical Americans spend 101 minutes in their car daily, five times the amount of time they spend exercising." Hmmmm .....

I know that I believe the theories that have been presented in the book thus far. I believe them deep down in my bones. But implementation has been difficult for me, at times. And I think the answer to the problem popped out on Page 121:
By taking nature experience out of the leisure column and placing it in the health column, we are more likely to take our children on that hike -- more likely to, well, have fun. Such a change in outlook is crucial. [emphasis added]
Wham! There it is for me! From a physical exercise standpoint, Brynne needs regular free play time in nature. From an emotional standpoint, Eli needs regular free play time in nature. I know I need it for my health, so why does it surprise me that they do, too.

Chapter 10. The Bogeyman Syndrome Redux. "Man's heart, away from nature, becomes hard: [the Lakota] knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. ~ Luther Standing Bear (c. 1868-1939)

I don't have as much to say about this chapter, because I think it is all true. Fear strikes the heart of most parents. Although I freely allow my children to play on our one-acre lot, without supervision, for long periods of time, I wouldn't dream of allowing them to take their bikes up onto the road and ride it down the street without me watching or being present. I am more fearful of the idiodic teenagers speeding through our neighborhood than of any potential pedophiles, but fears are there none-the-less.

I do think that we have become "scared stupid" by the media. But I think that if we stop and really think about it, we know that the reason why it appears to be a more dangerous world is that it's being reported more as such. You only need to study American or World History to know that the world has been a MUCH scarier and dangerous place, in hundreds of eras, than it is now.

The quote on Page 128 caused me to pause ... "The most disturbing finding of [the Duke Well-Being Index] report is not violence or abductions, but 'that children's health has sunk to its lowest point in the 30-year history of the Index, driven largely by an alarming rise in the number of children who are obese and a smaller decline in child mortality rates than achieved in recent years.'" And fear causes us to keep our kids indoors away from the physical and emotional activity that they need most.

And to continue with that thought, on Page 129 it states that "Lynn Henderson, a clinical psychologist and visiting scholar at Stanford ... worries that, as more parents keep their children inside the house or under rigid control, youngsters will be deprived of chances to become self-confident and discerning, to interact with neighbors, or to learn how to build real community --- which is one defense against sociopaths." We will create a next generation that is more untrusting than we are. "[P]roven antidotes to crime [are]: an active community, more human eyes on the streets, and self-confident children.

I know in our neighborhood, there is no sense of community. In fact, neighbors are more pitted against each other than uniting to help protect each other. Everyone has eyes on themselves, instead of on what's going on outside their own yards. I see these things as huge problems in our protection of our homes and families.

Chapter 11. Don't Know Much About Natural History: Education as a Barrier to Nature. "To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall." ~ Thomas Huxley

This chapter caused me a slight bit of confusion, although I completely understood the concerns of children today having so much focus learning about all of the plights of nature instead of experiencing the beauties of it. Learning versus Experiencing.

I wasn't sure I understood the remedy being offered in the chapter, except for more of a study of "Natural History". At first I thought about the couple of resources I know of that would be helpful to me in my teaching, and are readily available: curriculum provided by Multnomah Education Service District Outdoor School (referred to me by my brother who lives in Portland, Oregon) and the oodles of ideas provided monthly by Barb at Handbook of Nature Study.

But then, to me, I wondered about Learning vs. Experience. One of these studies is based on resources in Oregon. Barb's lessons don't always coincide with the natural resources and animals in Oklahoma, either. (Saying that, they are still excellent resources and much can be drawn from them.)

How do we EXPERIENCE nature in OUR area? How can I make nature a PRIORITY in our education?

The Tulsa Zoo has a program called Nature Exchange where you can bring any natural items you find and receive tokens to spend in their store. You get extra tokens if you have done some type of research about the product. Next to the zoo is Oxley Nature Center which includes miles of natural trails and information about the areas resources.

So, my general thought is to slowly spend the next few years utilizing all of the resources available at Oxley and have the kids take something new they learned, or have found, learn about it at home, then take it to present to Nature Exchange Center. We can utilize these free services so the kids can "earn" something for their work and focus their learning on things that are natural to OUR area. I figure this is a good place to start.

And, I have made a tentative decision to change up our weekly schedule in regard to outside physical education and music activities. It would free up our Fridays to focus on Nature and Art, two things that ALWAYS get pushed aside in our busy schedules.

A couple of other things I thought were interesting, that might be helpful:
  • Play classical music while the kids are doing math and science because studies of the arts, and particularly music, have statistically shown a dramatic increase in SAT scores in those areas.
  • Learn about some natural scientists, like John Muir, Rachel Carson, or Aldo Leopold. Focus on the scientists, not just the science.
What do you take away from this chapter? Do you have any other suggestions? How do you make nature study a priority in your school day? Do you focus on learning about your physical environments?

Leave me your comments on the chapters, or a link to your blog. Next week we'll read chapters 12, 13, and 14.


  1. Great post! You always are able to get to the meat of the book and bring it out in your posts. I am enjoying the book but not sure how I want to change up our lifestyle because of it, if that makes sense.

  2. I have so inspired this week by keeping our natural learning LOCAL! I have formulated a plan, and I am excited about it!

    In the past we have gone to Homeschool Co-op on Fridays for p.e., music, etc. But, our music teacher might not be able to do it this year (and Brynne is now in piano with her privately) and a local rec center has a homeschool p.e. class two DAYS a WEEK that is pretty inexpensive and includes swimming lessons, so I am planning to stop doing the Friday Co-op activities to free up our Fridays for nothing but Art and Nature.

    Art will be in the mornings (we use Usborne Treasury of Art).

    Nature will be in the afternoons: Go each Friday to our local Nature Center, do research at home and at the library, prepare posters about our "finds" to take to the Nature Exchange at the zoo, and doing a Naturalist study. I was THRILLED to find many books about John Muir in the children's department at the library. We will study him and our read-a-louds will be based on the naturalists. Our first book will be Squirrel and John Muir. I am pretty pumped about this plan!!

  3. I'm about 1/2 way through Chapter 9...I just borrowed the book about 5 days ago and am getting caught up...and I have to agree about over-scheduling and activities. For year, I was the hell-pent parent wanting my homeschooled kids to do EVERY SINGLE ACTIVITY that came around. It took YEARS for me to realize how detrimental this was to all of us! I was stressed with the running around and never being home to get "things done" and the kids were only partially invested in many of the activities and asking to stay home. This past year I finally got it right though - a good balance between activities, school and "free time". The kids and I were much calmer and happier! And I really think we got more out of the activities that they DID participate in. It's still very hard for me to not sign us up for every activity that comes along, but I am learning! LOL Sometimes it means disappointing others - like the Mom who wanted me to help her start a new co-op in a town 40 minutes away - but saying "No, thanks!" is better for MY FAMILY. I've realized that my insecurities about providing enough SOCIALIZATION for my kids (and to PROVE to family that they get it) was overboard!

  4. I finally finished my post on chapters 9-11. It was interesting to read that the suggestion to move time in nature out of the leisure column had popped out at you, too! I had written it in my notes with lots of underlining because it really hit home for me. I love your ideas for a strong focus on nature education resources close to home. I think I need to do some digging in our area to see what I can find.

    Home Schoolroom


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