“There was a child went forth every day, And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became, And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
The early lilacs became part of this child, And grass and white and red morning glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe bird, And the third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf…”
– Walt Whitman
I picked up a book recently that I’ve had on the shelves for a long time and started reading it. It’s called “Last Child in the Woods,” and I have to admit that the reason I’ve put it off was that I was afraid it would be too upsetting. And it is a little upsetting, but it’s also, thus far, a pretty incredible book- it has certainly made me remember fondly my days of tree-fort building and woods romping. The basic premise of the book is the fact that kids today don’t play outside. They don’t. I can vouch for this. I’m SURROUNDED by children in my neighborhood, and I haven’t seen many of them all summer. None of them are out building tree forts or doing any romping. I don’t think it’s good for them, and neither does the author of this book.
If I allowed it, my son would play Wii all day long. I do not allow it- let’s just get that clear right now. But he would. I have a live-in, electronic babysitter anytime I want her. I’ve noticed, however, that if he plays Wii or watches TV too much, he can’t go to sleep that night. The author of “Last Child in the Woods” believes that nature is an effective antidote to the things, like ADHD, that plague many of our children these days, and I think he may be on to something. I worry that our current addiction to all things electronic is doing more harm to our kids than we realize.
I say that as I sit in front of my beloved Mac, of course, and believe me- I have no intention of giving it up anytime soon! I also realize that our kids are what have been called “digital natives,” which is to say that they were born into the world of electronics that can give them instant access to everything in the entire world 24 hours a days. I don’t think we need to keep them from it entirely, but I do think we need to be careful and limit their use of it, and especially we need to counteract their 2D experiences with real-live, 3D, outside playing and getting dirty time. It’s kind of like hitting the reset button, or, to use electronics terminology, doing a reboot on their little brains. Or at least that’s been my experience thus far.
The Walt Whitman poem really struck me- the first object is what he became? Yikes. There are days from this summer when a poem about my son would read instead, “Sponge Bob Square Pants became part of this child, and Wii Sports and Skylanders…” That can’t be good. I’d rather he became an early morning bike ride or a visit out to water the garden. Or morning devotionals and a healthy breakfast with NOTHING turned on! I’m ready for the structure that comes with the school year, that’s for sure. We’ve all needed our down time, but I for one have had enough of it. Especially since this has been one of the rainiest summers that I can remember.
I’m ready to start back to school, you can tell. Is it really only July? Sigh.
But anyway, I highly recommend reading this book. And then I recommend shoving your kids outside to play. Like mine, they probably could use it.
Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.