Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I'm currently reading Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, in which he suggests that today's kids are too distant from their natural world and that such detachment might affect them negatively in a number of ways. He makes a number of interesting observations and arguments. And he speculates a fair amount (but he admits to the speculative nature of some of his points).
One of the most interesting ideas I've come across so far is that we "criminalize" the ways our children play in nature. In essence, he suggests that we've become so PC about the environment that we don't really allow our kids to play in it (He doesn't use that exact language, and I'm conflating his points a bit, but that's the gist). For example, kids learn about rain forest depletion, and they learn about endangered species, and they learn about global warming. So, to them, the environment becomes this big, inevitable apocalypse that they learn about when they're reading books inside. Then, when we tell them to go outside, we "criminalize" their exploration. We say, "Don't climb that tree, you could break a branch." "Don't touch the butterfly, you'll kill it." "Don't walk on those plants; they could die." And so on.
On Sunday, I took the kids to a local nature preserve to have a picnic and check out the fauna (and flora, I suppose, but they are way more into fauna). I should preface this by saying that my son LOVES nature and the creatures that exist in nature. On Sunday, he even said, "Mommy, Why is nature so nice?" And his love of nature leads him to want to bring it all into the house, even the fauna. But when we go to this nature preserve, I always say, "You can't touch the frogs here. They are endangered. And we can't touch the turtles. Here, we just have to look." He begrudgingly accepts this and is very good about following the rules.
However, this Sunday, he did happen to find grasshoppers. And I let him chase and catch the grasshoppers. As he was doing so, along with his little sister, an older couple came along to picnic and do some bird watching. They were very friendly, but they suggested several times to my kids that they should not hold onto the grasshoppers. Well, my kids were each intent on bringing a grasshopper home (which would mean holding them in their hands for a mile ride in the stroller). The older woman told them they should leave the grasshoppers there with their families where they could be happy. I think she really wanted me to tell my kids that they could not take the grasshoppers home.
But here's my thing. They are grasshoppers. Locusts. My kids were going to bring two home. Is this a big deal? Louv points out that when John Muir was a kid, he used to shoot at seagulls. But that didn't mean he would turn out to be destructive in nature. And I doubt he upset the gull population in any radical way. In fact, Louv suggests that by really being IN nature--whether it's through hiking, fishing, or collecting bugs and reptiles--our kids will be more inclined to protect it when they become adults.
So I have decided that I will let my kids climb trees, and I won't fret too much about a broken branch or two (I mean, how many trees do people cut down to build their big houses with the nice views of nature? And then they don't want kids to accidentally "wound" part of their vista?). And I decided that my kids could bring grasshoppers home to feed and observe. And I let my son bring in a praying mantis that was about to be eaten by the neighbor's cat. And sometimes we let him bring home a few tadpoles to watch them turn into frogs (and then we release the frogs into their original habitats). I did these things when I was a kid. I can't imagine how many lightening bugs I trapped over the years. So I guess my kids are learning to love nature--the old fashioned way.
So what do you think? Are we criminals? Are we upsetting the balance of the planet?