When I was growing up there were no video games, no computers, no cell phones, and in the early years no TV. Instead, there was the outdoors which was the best entertainment ever.
My father would take me fishing when he was off work. I've written before about how he taught me to read the water, drive a boat, and to catch trout, croaker, and spot. My mother though was the main force behind the then unheard of philosophy of "No child left indoors" (see note below). From the time that I got off school for summer vacation, she would take me for treks through the woods and fields to identify plants, collect insects, and bring back pond water to look at under the microscope.
Our field trips were the source of delight because we would always find something strange. She would delight in finding shelf fungi on trees, mats of algae in a pond, and the occasional horned caterpillar of a favorite moth. On more than one occasion, I would bring home a cocoon or an egg case to be placed in a hatching cage that my father built. Every day, I would check to see what progress was being made until eventually a moth would emerge from the cocoon or beetles would hatch from the egg case. Even having a thousand tiny praying mantis escape from the hatching cage and invade the kitchen wasn't much of a problem for my mother. It was all part of the adventure.
The old Hepplewhite dining room table that has been around for over a hundred years became my laboratory bench. There were snakes, frogs, and many species of insect that were examined, identified and labeled. It was really through my mother's efforts that I developed such an interest in science, especially natural history.
But being outside was the best laboratory of all. When I think about what so many children are missing today because they are stuck inside playing video games, or endlessly texting their friends, it makes me wonder who they will be tomorrow. Maybe they will be the computer gurus of the future. Or perhaps the next software developers. Or maybe the text messaging will spark an interest in writing a book. The possibilities are endless. I am simply grateful for the outdoor time that I spent and how it shaped me. I truly wasn't a child left indoors.
Note: In recent years, people around the country have been rallying behind a no-child-left-inside campaign, according to Richard Louv, the ground-breaking author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. In his book, he quotes James Sallis of the Active Living Research Program for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who says that “an indoor, sedentary childhood is linked to mental health problems.” It is also linked to problems with childhood obesity.
The following statistics say a lot: (1) According to the Kaiser Foundation, in 2005 the average United States child spent six hours a day watching television and playing video games on a computer. (2) Most state and national parks report a ten to 20% drop in visitors over the past few years. (3) The organization “Playing for Keeps” says that 80% of children under age two and more than 60% of ages two to five have no access to daily outdoor play.