“Free range” is a term we generally use when talking about healthier animal treatment… not when discussing our upcoming summer plans. But when the broad definition means “to roam freely instead of being contained,” I think the concept of free range children fits rather beautifully.
After all, the idea of free range children who are enjoying nature, being themselves, breathing fresh air is just that – beautiful.
Have you ever watched a child walk through a forest?
Run their fingers through sand?
Sit down on a soft, furry carpet of moss?
Throw rocks into a pond?
Build leaf boats and float them down a creek?
Or lie on their back in a grassy field and make pictures out of the clouds?
Have you ever just sat back and observed the intensity of imagination and the pure, unadulterated absorption of children becoming one with nature?
You Can Directly Influence Your Child’s Lifelong Relationship with Nature
Children are spending less time in nature, and are suffering more from anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems than ever before (source). Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book Last Child In The Woods.
In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.
Based on his own studies, he claims that “parental fears, restricted access to natural areas, and the lure of the screen” are causing children to spend less time in a natural environment. He states that a decline in respect towards our natural environment, an increase in obesity, ADD and ADHD, and mood disorders are all symptoms of Nature Deficit Disorder.
And I believe it.
In an age where organized sports for children is at its highest and so, too, are obesity, depression and anxiety, we still haven’t caught on to the real issue at hand.
Children have learned from and lived with nature ever since the beginning of time. Today, with parental fear of strangers, an abundance of screen time, and the loss of green space in neighborhoods, it isn’t surprising that children are losing a respect for and an understanding of our natural surroundings.
It’s worth noting that kids who spend time in nature grow up to be happier, more well-adjusted adults with fewer mental health issues, a Danish study of nearly 1 million people found.
Our Kids Don’t Have to Suffer From Nature Deficit Disorder
We don’t have to let our children be a part of this growing phenomenon. If we really want to reconnect our children with our natural world there are plenty of opportunities. And summer is the perfect time of year to take action.
In honor of free range summers, skip a few days of cement water parks, chlorine-filled pools, metal playgrounds, and organized sports.
Take a few hours in each day to help your child really FEEL nature.
And don’t force it.
Allow children to roam free and explore to their hearts’ content. Be a bird in a tree and observe the interaction between child and the natural environment. BREATHE the fresh air. LIVE the moment. And know you are bringing your child back to a place instinctively natural, where she can be herself or anything else she imagines herself to be.
“When children complain of boredom, there’s no need to provide them with endless distractions. Distraction is the problem. Constant activity and entertainment provided by someone other than the child isn’t normal,” explains Laura Grace Weldon in her book Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything.
“We can encourage children to stay with discomfort when they complain of boredom. We can explain that it’s a signal to cross over into imagination. A personal signal and therefore nobody else’s responsibility to solve… so long after they’ve accepted that they’re bored forever, an idea will appear, likely more than one idea.”
5 Ways to Encourage Free Range Children
There are so many ways your family can reconnect with nature and bring back free range summers.
Here are five super simple ideas to get you started. (And just like your body starts to crave more nutrition when you feed it healthy foods, don’t be surprised by how much more time in nature your child will want once they get all that good dirt, sunshine, and fresh air in their system!)
Spend a night in a tent in a campground. Hear the wind rustling through the trees. Watch for shooting stars. Cook over a camp fire and observe the wildlife around you. Be sure to follow the principles of Leave No Trace camping.
Take a hike
Day hiking is a wondrous way to get kids to forget all about screens. It’s also great exercise. Bring a book on native animal or plant species and try to identify your surroundings. Take a few minutes to sit down and listen to the sounds nature makes.
Plant a garden together
When kids understand firsthand where real food comes from, they’re more likely to eat it. If you don’t have space for a garden, rent space in a community garden or plant a container garden. Make sure you teach your child how to care for it, weed it, water it and harvest it.
Collecting seeds for the next year is also a teachable project. Try one of these kid-friendly garden projects. And if your child is more interested in what critters live in or around your backyard, you can make a wildlife garden.
Visit a natural beach or riverbed
Forget the plastic beach toys and help your child find driftwood, shells, rocks, and leaves to play with. Sit back and let them explore as long as they like. If they still have energy after exploring, pick up any litter or plastic that has washed up and talk about the importance of using less and disposing of our trash properly.
Go on a picnic to an area with natural surroundings
It doesn’t have to be a forest or a massive, empty field. Even just a park (minus the monkey bars) or a neighborhood green belt. Somewhere you can sit back, relax and share a healthy snack with the ones you love.
Make sure to give your child plenty of alone time to observe and interact. Enjoy a laid back, no-schedule summer with plenty of free range time to learn, grow and connect with the beauty and reality of Mother Nature.
Build memories and learn life lessons.
Your children will always remember these moments and might even thank you for them one day.