For those of you who have not read the story of the courtship between me and my husband, it was sordid. I had just come from ten years in NYC preceeded by ten years in LA. He was still living on the far-from-everything farm he grew up on in Wisconsin. The culture clash was huge, and we pretty much broke up once a month until the kids and I moved into his house.
One of the things that kept me going was that I knew I wanted to live in a rural setting, and I knew the farm was the right place for me and the kids. I also knew that there was no way I was going to like living on a farm without a farmer.
The day I was hooked was the first day I visited the farm and held my older son’s hand while we walked across the pasture to meet the cattle heard.
The one thing I am sure I’ve done right as a parent is to move to a farm with my kids. Every day here is magical. This week, the windows for the room we’re adding on the house were on back order. The carpenter has been saying for months that the tree in the front yard needed a tree house. So while we were waiting for the windows, he built a treehouse.
The boys didn’t leave the treehouse all day. Even for meals. (I’m pretty sure they peed off the side. What boy wouldn’t try that at least one time?)
Now that we’ve established that computer gaming does not take away from reading time, it’s pretty clear that what it does take away from is outdoor time. But my kids spend about five hours a day outside; if there is a good environment for being outside, kids will go.
So instead of worrying that gaming is bad for kids, why not start a conversation about how the outdoors should be more more enticing to kids? I sacrificed a lot to give my kids an outdoor setting. I mean, we drive eight hours to cello lessons, right? But it’s clear to me that when you gain something in location you lose something in location and this is really true of kids and outdoors.
It’s crazy that the best way to give kids who go to school some time in the great outdoors is to send them to summer camp. Or let them run free when school is out. Winter vacation to Florida. This is crazy because it teaches kids that learning is for indoors, and a break from learning is the outdoors.
Richard Lov, author of Last Child in the Woods calls this problem nature-deficit disorder. He says kids should think of learning and outdoors as the same. Because outdoors is essential for wellbeing, and learning is essential for well-being. They should be together.
There are so many discussions about the choices we make for homeschooling, but so few discussions focus on outdoors. Here’s a test I devised, to figure out how rich an environment your kids have outdoors. Give yourself one point for each answer.
1. Can your kids walk for a mile on their own and be safe?
2. Can your kids find new animals on their own?
3. Can your kids climb trees and dig holes unsupervised?
4. Can your kids forage for plants they can eat?
5. Can you tell your kids, “I can’t stand hearing you fight anymore! Go outside!”
We have five points. But we have given up almost everything—all city amenities—to live on a farm. So probably if you score five points, you are nuts.
3-4 points: It’s a great environment for your kids.
1-2 points: You probably value many things more than kids learning from being outside. And this is probably a higher risk area for you than how much screen time your kids may or may not have.