Wednesday, August 11, 2010

No child left indoors

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.


  1. Given how much research is saying about the importance of vitamin D, which we absorb through sunlight, it's not wonder that spending too much time indoors has been linked to health disorders. But it's not just that - when I'm outdoors in a really beautiful place I feel spiritually healthy. If I may plug my two favorite National Parks, Glacier and Waterton are celebrating their 100 year anniversaries, this year. Summer's not quite over if you want to make the trip!

  2. Syd I agree with you so passionately here that I was nodding my head and saying "Yes!' as I read. Even though I was a voracious reader, I would take a book and an apple and go and read in a tree on summer afternoons. Exploring the natural world and bringing home small frogs in jars or fishing in seaside pools with a net.

    And I think an indoors sedentary life is as bad for adults, especially for those of us in recovery.

  3. I loved the woods and walked for hours as a youngster just looking at the plants, insects and trees. Still memories from those days give me serenity. Nature healed alot of difficult times for me.
    Thanks Syd for bringing this up!

  4. i agree spend way too much time indoors...i learned so much in the woods out back growing up and used my imagination more than to puch buttons...

  5. I grew up in the outdoors as well, in dairy country, western New York state. Thankfully, my boy tires easily of his video games, uses the internet to look things up (and play a few games, yes) and loves to run around like a madman outdoors with his little buddies.

  6. I know one of the results of the kids growing up in the digital age of text, video, and constant connection to five people at once.

    They are fearful of being alone, where they only have their own personality and thoughts to guide them through time.

    They fear isolation more than they do incarceration without realizing that being uber-connected to their "contacts" is a prison all its own.

  7. I've heard that author on NPR and I totally agree with him. Our mothers used to virtually shut us out of the house during the daytime. "Go play!" and we would, coming back in for lunch and then maybe we could stay inside and read for awhile. Or maybe not. Depending on her mood.
    That would be a reason to call HRS these days.
    Crazy world we live in.

  8. Best thing my mom did for me as a kid was kick me outdoors as often as possible, rain or shine! I lived in the natural world of wonder and imagination!


  9. Oh are singing my heart's song!! There is a book called The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places by Gary Nahan and Stephen case anyone is interested. Awesome book that helps direct parents to give their children the gift of nature and the freedom of outdoor living.

    I am so touched by what your mom gave to you! She explored the world around her and she wanted to share it with her boy. She opened up a whole world of learning to you and I have no doubt that who you are today is a direct result of those many hours spent scouring the woods and wild places for treasures together with your momma. This is an absolutely beautiful post...thank you for sharing it with us.

  10. nice post..we grew up outdoors too..rain or shine :)and were just recently remeniscing on how much of our outside childhood world no longer exists due to the building of more indoor places...

  11. I agree totally with you. Get those kids out of the house.

    Part of the childhood obesity issue isn't about food it is about not exercising.

    It was never too hot for my mother to get us out of the house. It was never too cold to be booted either.

    We need to stop coddling and put more activity in life. Fishing, hunting, running, playing needs to part of growing up. Not so mucg video game and computer.

    And to think the first thing school districts cut is physical education. Makes you wonder doesn't it.

  12. What your mother did for you was priceless! I'd guess that probably each older generation thinks its youth was better occupied than the generation that succeeds it, and I wonder what the kids of the 21st century will think of theirs when they get older. But I'll take my own childhood, with its treehouses, hikes, imaginary play, chores, and even its sorrows, and consider myself blessed, as you do.

  13. Your mother sounds like a wonderful woman. How lucky to have a childhood like yours!

  14. I grew up outside too. With two older brothers we were always playing outdoors, summer or winter and my mother would have to drag us in for the night. I always throw my kids outdoors. We are lucky that they have kids in the neighborhood to play with and I always remind them that before too long they will be indoors in school all day long. I miss being outdoors as an adult, as I spend 8 hours a day in my office. Great post!

  15. When I visited my mom the other day we talked about what a great thing it was to grow up in the neighborhood where my mom has now lived for over 60 years. It was (and still is) a world of farmland and forest and I wish more people had the space and privilege to wander, play, learn and grow in a similar environment that I, my siblings and friends had there. I think that growing up in Nature gave us a moral and spiritual perspective on the world that wasn't all about making money and covering the land with housing developments but had more to do with loving the land everything of the land and wanting to treat it well so it would be there for others. My mom chucked us out the door immediately after breakfast and we would be gone all day. I thanked her for that the other day, so it was somewhat serendipitous that you wrote about No child left indoors.

  16. It's a noble thought that we should kick our kids outdoors, but we no longer live in a culture where we can do that. Imagine a 7 year old letting it slip that "mommy kicks me out of the house all day and tells me to go play".

    It would be half a second before child protective services were beating down her door.

    Our noble intentions of creating a child-centric culture has done them an egregious disservice, we're just a little slow on the uptake.

  17. so sad that many kids now a days don't really know the outdoors, with the exception of organized sports.

  18. And then they want to put them on diets because they are obese.

    We are a bunch of crazy people.


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