Monday, April 27, 2015

Monday Memories - Outside

What with Earth Day and Arbor Day being last week, I thought I’d share a conversation my sister, Marcia, and I had a few years ago about nature and children. 

Marcia is an elementary education professor.  She was returning from a sabbatical where she had been studying brain research when we had the conversation.  She shared that a big concern today is the lack of nature in children’s educational diets. Many parents today remember their parents telling them of time spent on their grandparents’ farms giving them first-hand stories, but not first hand experience of planting and weeding gardens, feeding farm animals and irrigating crops.

Children of today are an additional generation removed from those stories and experiences.  Within another generation, those incidents will have become virtually obsolete. 

Today, rather than playing in creeks, children swim in cemented and chlorinated backyard pools and squirt parks. Rather than bottle feeding calves or shearing lambs, children see animals in fiberglass habitats behind glass in a zoo. Rather than hooking up a hose and watering a garden, children plug cords into TV’s and computers and play video games. 

The lack of nature-oriented activities is beginning to manifest itself in society:

One medical professor observed that medical students today are intellectually brilliant, but having never screwed two hoses together or watched a pump work, they are practical-ly handicapped. 

Other experts express concerns that children are becoming less self-sufficient being so far removed from nature. Children eat more and more processed foods—pressed chicken patties in the shape of dinosaurs rather than a leg of chicken, fruit-flavored snacks instead of fruit, even milk appears to be man-made like soda—and as a result are becoming more dependent on manufacturers.

Marcia continued, “Remember when you wondered how a bird could sit on a power line without getting electrocuted or how it could take flight from a wire? Where did you think about those things?” She answered her own question, “The car. Cars were an extension of our surroundings as we drove through countrysides and observed the different things in nature that weren’t in our own backyards.” However, because children today are usually watching DVD’s, playing hand-held video games, listening to iPods or texting on the telephone, nature observation has been stifled even in laboratories like the car.

Some have tried to correct the situation by making “green” communities or housing developments, but studies show that even in these efforts children are still alienated from nature because rules like “do not abuse trees,” “do not walk on the grass,” “do not play in the water,” dot the landscape. 

Without being able to explore, climb, smell, touch, hear, taste and dissect, children’s learning is impaired.

Later I told Calvin about mine and Marcia's discussion. Having claimed all of the Arizona dessert as his backyard as a boy, he is not nature challenged. In fact, right after we were married we were riding horses in the Uintah Mountains when he saw a rattlesnake. I grew up in the sagebrush desserts of Idaho and we were expressly taught that when we heard a rattlesnake we were to go the other way. Idaho and Arizona desserts must have different rules.  Before I could back my horse up, Calvin was off his and running towards the snake. He reached down and picked it up then called me to come to him. 

I was stunned and thought, “This is no fair. How was I supposed to know he’d do this after we got married? These are things you should know before you get married.  How was I to know he chased rattlesnakes?"  

However, Calvin's voice was calm and reassuring, “No really. I want to show you how a rattlesnake works. You need to know this and it’s interesting.” 

When he'd finally coaxed me near enough, he showed me the fangs working up and down hoping for a piece of my flesh.  I admit. It was fascinating, but NOT ENOUGH TO HOLD A RATTLESNAKE BY ITS HEAD. 

After learning more than I ever dreamed I’d know about rattlesnakes, Calvin got rid of it. It pained him to kill it, but a compromise is a compromise and I said I'd look at it if he'd kill it when he was done.  

After visiting with Marcia, Calvin and I talked about what exactly we could do to help future generations of Payne children keep nature in their intellectual and emotional diets. We talked about camping, gardening, raising animals, and Calvin added hunting . . . but for the sake of the children I will teach about snakes.  

Here are a few recent pictures that I love of our grandkids in nature:

Levin loves to feed the cows and gather the eggs when he comes to visit.  He also
likes to eat the corn as he feeds the cows.

Atlas swished the leaves and sticks around to help me clean up the yard.

Henry helped us plant the garden . . . in his socks.

Ande takes Zeph outside every day and makes him play for a
couple of hours.  It's got to be tediously boring for her some days,
but she feels teaching him to explore and entertain himself is
important.  She often Face Times me when they're outside.

Afton telling Eliza not to pick the "pokey one."  You only pick a thistle once.


Nikki W said...

I love this so much. Nature can teach our children endless lessons. How I would love to turn them loose to learn for themselves instead of trying to manufacture a situation where they would learn the same things!

Ande said...

I loved reading this and seeing the pictures. I'm so glad you taught us to work outside and love outside. I have many, many memories of just going outside to think and imagine and explore. I'm so glad we had that freedom. I'm also so glad we learned to take care of outside. I ache to have a garden and chickens. You swore I would say that. You were right.