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Last Child in the Woods ~ Chapters 12, 13 and 14

Now we are getting to it ... What do we do about this problem???

Chapter 12. Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From? "[What is the] extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren?" ~ Naturalist Robert Michael Pyle

This question in the title of this chapter has followed me around through the first 11 chapters of the book. If children don't know nature, who will be a steward for nature when they are adults?

On Page 146 it says, " ... as the acre of nature increasingly becomes an intellectual concept severed from the joyful experience of the outdoors ..." Learning vs. Experience. This was the main point I pulled from Chapter 11.

Page 147 continues by pointing out that, "One overlooked value of children is that they constitute the future political constituency, and their attention or vote -- which is ultimately based more on a foundation of personal experience than rational decision-making -- is not guaranteed." Children are future adults. What happens to them while they are children will affect our future when they are the adults making the decisions.

The decline in camping and attending National Parks is a concern! Many points were made, but I have one of my own based on my own experience. We are too fru-fru these days, wanting comfort and convenience over "roughing it". When we went to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons a couple of years ago, the cabins and lodges were booked WAY in advance and there were "No Vacancies". There were lots of campers, but there seemed to be a lot of empty lots. And that was in July, in a prime time to camp there. We chose to rent a pop-up camper (and that is a whole story of it's own that scars me to this day), but my kids talk about the camping, the natural environment, and the exploring when they talk about that vacation. The tourist points were not their favorite points in the trip.

The advice in Chapter 12 that stuck out to me is that "organizers of nature activities should strive to make the experience as unorganized as possible -- but still meaningful." THAT is a challenge for me, a micro-manager. But it challenged me and encouraged me. It causes me to pause and consider my plans for us to spend Friday afternoons at Oxley Nature Center. It causes me to step back in my planning and just let the kids explore and connect with what they want to connect with, and learn from there, so that they will hopefully develop a "contagious attitude of attentiveness." (Page 151). If I try to draw their attention to particular things, constantly drawing their attentions away from what attracts them naturally, I am failing. "Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming." (Page 151).

I'll end my thoughts of this chapter by stating how sad I think it is that the Boy and Girl Scouts have succumbed to the politics of our country and changed their focuses. To bow to the pressure and take away the Fishing badge? How sad! If the Scouts aren't even focusing on nature, is there any hope for the rest of us?

Part IV
The Nature-Child Reunion

Chapter 13. Bringing Nature Home. "It is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world." ~ Rachel Carson

Learning vs. Experience. There it is again. And in the beginning of this chapter it is evidence that the parent should pay attention to the dichotomy between Teaching vs. Experiencing With. I'm starting to see a pattern here.
  • "If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or is one more chore, then the belief in perfection and the chore defeats the joy." (Page 164)
  • "The main thing is to find or rediscover our own sense of joy, excitement, and mystery." (Page 166)
  • "Your job isn't to hit them with another Fine Educational Opportunity, but to turn them on to what a neat world we live in" (Deborah Churchman, American Forests, Page 172) 
  • "One parent's hike is another's forced march, and the same is true for children. Parents must walk a fine line between presenting and pushing the kids to the outdoors. (Page 171)
I love the idea on Page 172 of re-creating all the "dopey" things we did as a kid, with our kids. For me that was going to the top of our street after a good rain and sending our Fisher Price toys down the rain-flowing ditch to see if we could make it back to our house at the end of the street at the bottom of the hill. I would spend hours trying to fish them out of the drainage ditches when they got stuck in the leaves. But the victory when we made it all the way!!

The tips on helping our kids to fight boredom was inspiring. I am pretty lucky in that my kids really don't get bored. They play one thing for a while, turn the t.v. on to watch one show then shut it off, then go play with something else, then come hang out with me, then go hang out with one of each other, then play a computer game or iPad app, then go play some more. Very rarely do they tell me they are bored. But if you have a bored one, here are some ways you can help:
  • Have your child spend more time with you or another positive adult.
  • Turn off the television.
  • Find a good balance between adult direction and a child's unstructured play time. 

Chapter 14. Scared Smart: Facing the Bogeyman.

What continually stood out at me in this chapter was the "key words" I came across.
  • "Hyperawareness" ~ Being told to "pay attention" instead of to "be careful". Hyperawareness is instructive instead of reacting to a feeling of fight or flight.
  • "Nature Smart" ~ This is like being "street smart". Street smart people know how to survive on the street because they have been around the block. Nature smart people have been around the tree enough to know how to survive in natural environments. 
This reminds me of my son, Dawson, and his best friend, Antonio. We live at the top of a bluff. There are times that they load up some backpacks and head out to "explore". I've been shown later, by them, where they have ended up miles from our house. Am I afraid that they will be hurt on these excursions? Usually. But, they have their cell phones with them and they are always together. I figure if one gets into trouble the other will call. These explorations are some of Dawson's favorite moments. I am honestly more afraid of them getting in trouble by the neighbors or homeowner's association than physically getting hurt.
  • "Appropriate Trust" ~ Instead of teaching our kids only about the evils of the world, teach them about the people who they can trust if they get into trouble. "Kids want the information that's going to enable them to protect themselves." (Page 184)
  • "Self-esteem, self-confidence, close relationship with parents" ~ These are the ones who are less likely to get victimized. Ask any kid who gets bullied. Bullies pick on the ones who don't appear as confident as the rest. If you are out in nature and come upon a tree trunk that is acting as a bridge to the other side of a creek, are you more likely to get hurt if you are scared while walking on the trunk, being timid and unsure of your steps? I think so. If you are confident as you walk, you will have more steady balance.
  • "Love and time" ~ "The time we give our children builds their self-esteem and self-confidence, and this gives them armor they can take with them the rest of their lives." (Page 185)
I would offer this quote as a summary of how to combat the Bogeyman Syndrome, given by Richard Louv on Page 186:

"To increase your child's safety, encourage more time outdoors, in nature. Natural play strengthens children's self-confidence and arouses their senses -- their awareness of the world and all that moves in it, seen and unseen."

So, what do you think about what you read this week? I can say that I am certainly adapting my plans for our nature involvement this year with each chapter I read. Just when I think I have the "plan" figured out, I realize that the "plan" may be where my problem lies.

Leave me a comment with your thoughts or a link to your post about these chapters.

Next week we'll read Chapters 15, 16, and 17. It's a lot of material, so get started soon!! Have a great weekend! I am heading to Missouri to see my new baby niece (who might have been born by the time you read this post, as my sister was admitted at 7:00 tonight) and spending a couple of days at my parents' lake house. I can't wait to see what my kids discover there.


  1. I meant to join your discussion. I read this book a while back and loved. Just reading your thoughts about here re-inspires me. I just put the book on hold at my library, so hopefully I will get it soon.

  2. I am always inspired with your posts from this book. Currently digesting the three chapters and deciding what to write.Have a fun time on your trip.

  3. Nicole, I suffer from a micro-managing personality, too! What struck me the most in all these chapters is that I need to step back and let the kids experience nature. I have a hard time not turning every single thing we see and do into a lesson, but I'm hoping to make some progress. My post talks about the baby steps I've taken and my plans going forward.

    Home Schoolroom


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