Kids Freaked Out By Grass, Squirrels and Playing Outside

Hi Readers — A fellow named Brian sent in this note about kids and nature. It sort of dovetails with a study just released in England that found an alarming percentage of kids are spending so much time indoors, they can’t identify things in the natural world anymore, including daddy longlegs. I’m no huge fan of spiders, but daddy longlegs seem like they should be part of everyone’s childhood, one way or another. (Just not laying their eggs in Bubble Yum.)  — Lenore

No Child Left Inside

by Brian

Last year I had the opportunity to work at an Outdoor Education facility in Texas. It was an amazing job and I do miss it.  We took fifth graders for four days and taught them about conservation and ecology, but mostly we just had fun.  A few things struck me while working there:

First, very few of these students had ever been outside before. Really. Unmanicured lawns and overgrown trees were exciting to these kids. They’d encounter a squirrel and freak out.

Second, and scarier: The kids were afraid of EVERYTHING. Dark roads? Check. Not being able to use their flashlights on an illuminated pathway? Check. Sitting on the ground during daylight hours? Yup. The worst were the things they had been warned about by their parents: Wolves and bears and other large animals that NO LONGER even exist in this part of the country and haven’t for decades, if not a century or more. We spent the week teaching these kids not so much about the water cycle, as planned, but that nature (and the world in general) shouldn’t be feared.

One of our activities was to boat our group of kids out to an island and let them have free play. Yes, we had some rules. They had to (sorta) stay within sight of an adult and have a partner with them. You probably won’t be surprised by their initial reaction: they did nothing. The first ten minutes were spent staring at each other. Absent direct adult instructions these kids had no idea how to play.

Third, and worst: I’ll just give examples here. One student was sent with a suitcase full of little plastic bags. Each bag was labled “First Night Pajamas,” “Second Day Outfit,” “Extra Shirt, Second Day.” I’ve never seen a kid smile so big as when I told him to just throw his dirty clothes into his bag. This child had zero ability to think for himself.

Another of my students came from an extremely low-income area. (Actually, most of them did). He arrived with his classmates on Tuesday. He was a little homesick, but nothing bad. Day two went fine, homesickness was easily dealt with. He was integrating fine with the group and was enjoying himself by lunch. Day three, Mom arrives out of no where and takes her son home. Her reason?  Her SON couldn’t handle being away.  He would be home in less than 24 hours, but HE couldn’t cope. Now, our facility is over two hours away from their school. His mother hired a cab to take her to our facility and back. We priced out the trip from the company website: $400+, because mom couldn’t deal with her lack of control.

Worst of all, there were kids we never got to meet — friends the students would talk about whose parents refused to give permission. Kids whose names we’d call out, only to be told by their classmates that their parents had pulled them off the trip at the last minute.

Working at this facility made me a believer in your cause. Thank you.  –Brian