Wednesday, November 4, 2009

childhood memories of exploring outside

Well, a little bit ago my dad requested that I share some childhood memories on my blog. And, also going along with the Last Child in the Woods book that I recently read, I have been thinking a lot about some of the memories I have with nature from when I was a child. (and to do a post a day, I am committed to finally post these things I've been thinking of for a long time now. Sometimes I just need to ponder things for awhile, you know . . . )

But the book emphasizes how we make connections and feel attached to nature by having unstructured time to explore and just be in nature, and that is exactly what I remember most from my childhood.

Here are just some of the things I've been thinking of:

1. There was a dirt hillside up the street from my house that sloped down to the ditch by the road. My siblings and our friends somehow came up with the idea of sliding down the dirt into the ditch on our butts. By doing this repeatedly (day after day), it wore a pretty slick slide that got going pretty fast. I was about 8 or 9, maybe younger and I'm sure my mom really hated us coming home with dirt ground into the pants of our shorts, but we just loved it.

2. I also remember going on many hikes up the hills by where the power line easement went through by our house. There was a big slab of rock filled with fossils that we loved to climb and chisel out fossils, and a small cave formed from the rocks that we hid and played in.

3. The wooded lot next to our house was vacant for most of the time we lived there and it provided a forest to explore, trees to climb (and in our yard also). It was especially fun after a rain and it would become a virtual swamp to splash in. And in the winter, the swamp would freeze and we would ice skate (or slide in shoes) in between the trees.

4. I remember spending time braiding chains out of weeds that grew up along the gravel road across from our house and fashioning various kinds of "clothing" from them, namely belts, crowns, necklaces, etc.

5. I also have very fond memories of making an outdoor "house" in the trees by my friend Megan's house. I'm a little blurry on the details (this was probably around 4th grade), but I remember we somehow made a sink with a place for soap, and other little appliances and things, all made from sticks and leaves and other things we found in the woods, along with a heavy dose of vivid imaginations. :)

6. Our favorite thing to do in the fall was to rake the leaves into squares forming the floor plans of houses, different rooms, doorways etc. that we would then play in (and you were NOT allowed to step over the leaf pile walls instead of walking through the doorway - no way!). I also seem to remember that playing orphans had a lot to do with this. Might have been related to living in a house made of leaves, but who knows.

Anyway, this is just a small sampling of some of my very early nature memories. This doesn't include all the amazing memories I have of camping with my family and going to the beach. Especially when I was in high school, our trip up to Maine (whale watching and canoeing in the Adirondacks are among my all time favorites) or Cape Hatteras, NC. I have many many other great memories, but can't write them all, of course.

But what stuck out to me as I read the book and thought about my own memories was how much freedom I had as a child. We played outside almost all the time and roamed around, played in the ditches, collected tadpoles, etc etc. And I realized my kids just don't have that freedom, for whatever reasons. They are pretty much confined to our fenced backyard and they don't spend enough time out there as it is. It is interesting to think a little about how different times are now and why and whether or not we should try to put things back to how they were "back then." But Zac and I have committed to try to do more to get our kids to explore nature outside, to spend time to just take things in, to think, to enjoy and savor it (with and without us), and to feel "connected" to life outside.

What do you think? Do you have fond memories of playing outside? Do you think things are "different" now - and should they be?
Share your thoughts.


Mom B said...

Hey Kristen, that was great reading about the fun times you had as a kid. You know, I don't even remember the dirt ground into your pants. Must not have been that bad. haha. I do remember the houses made out of leaves. That's something Ellen and I did as kids too!

I think it's a sad but necessary fact of life that kids don't have the freedom now that they used to have. It's just a different world. I'm sure you would never dream of letting your kids roam the hills by your house alone and you have good reason not to, but back when you were a kid I didn't have that fear for you when you were out exploring. It's just different. You just need to work harder at giving them opportunities.

Christina G. said...

I have read time and time again that the number of child abductions has NOT increased since the 70s - rather the media is publicizing them much more than in the past. It's hard to be a parent and turn the "abduction" fear off and give your children the freedom to roam. I am wondering how free I will let my kids be when they are a bit older (currently they are just shy of 2 and 4). I too remember having so much freedom when I was growing up.

zac said...

In a lot of ways the world is probably safer than it was, yet I know it scares me to death to think of letting the kids wander the woods alone. Our generation has become scared of everything and we're raising children that will either be scared of everything or completely rebel, unless we manage to overcome some of this fear. That's my opinion anyway.

We need a stream full of crawdads, frogs, and turtles for the kids to romp through. There are some drawbacks to living in the desert. I used to love playing around the water. I caught all kinds of animals growing up: crawdads, tadpoles and frogs, toads, turtles of all sorts, rabbits, fish, birds, snakes, lizards, etc. I felt a real connection to nature.

I remember when my dad started trying to sell me on the idea of moving to New Jersey. One of my biggest concerns was whether there were trees - I loved to climb trees. He said there were tons, so I was very excited. We had planned to buy a home nestled in a forest there but it never worked out. We eventually ended up living on a city block, 4 blocks from the beach - never got my forest but I did get a beach. Anyway that has always been my dream to have a house in the middle of a forest. I'm still planning on achieving that goal one day. That would be pretty scary in much of the west because of fire danger but less of a concern in the East.

Anyway, after writing all this I'm getting excited about getting my kids more in touch with nature, no matter what type is available.


Anonymous said...

funny, i don't remember the dirt slide either. or the leaf "houses".

but i do remember playing up in the woods behind jessica & amy's house.. the huge rotten logs, and we'd dig out the rotting wood and pretend it was food. cheese, in particular. i don't have any idea why on earth we called it cheese.

i remember lots of imagination games involving being animals, not people. mice. i remember pretending to be mice. one instance in particular was up in the woods by the golf course with a bunch of friends.

yeah, we definitely had more freedom then. or maybe mom just didn't know where we were? haha, i don't know. i haven't been so worried of bren getting abducted as i have just of him hurting himself (cause that's just his tendency) and no one being around to help.

your desert mountain isn't as interesting perhaps as a forest or a stream, but wouldn't the kids have fun exploring up there anyway? do you really not let them out of the yard?

i absolutely think that much of the fear surrounding life these days is completely unnecessary and is a direct result from the "news" blowing things out of proportion. in fact, i think even OUR childhoods were overprotected. i don't know how or why or when, but somehow i was taught to be afraid of everything and everyone and i'm still working on getting over it..


Kristen said...

I do worry about my kids getting hurt, too. Or lost. In particular, we have coyotes, cougars, rattlesnakes, and scorpions up in our hills and it kind of freaks me out. I know the odds are low, but still.

It doesn't help knowing there are registered sex offenders around our neighborhood (thanks to those handy registries where you can look up your neighborhood and see where they live).

I think I worry more about them being molested than actually abducted.

And it's true, the kids don't go out on their own - anywhere. We have decided as a result of discussions of this book, that the older kids really need to go out and explore around our house more. The hill is also covered in very prickly weeds which doesn't seem like much fun to me. But anyway - another issue (for another discussion) is how they really don't have the free time I remember having as a child. (TOO MUCH HOMEWORK!!!)
They hardly have time to play at all, much less go off exploring.

And it is a sad sad fact that they watch too much TV and the boys play too many video games. I cringe to admit it, esp since I didn't even ever want to OWN a TV, but it is true.

Anyway - there's always a lot to work on and improve as parents, right?

Jennifer said...

I don't ever remembering telling my parents where I was going. I would ride my bike to the park with my brother, go to the neighbors to play, play in the empty lot behind our houses. We knew we needed to be home when it was dinner time and my parents had a big cow bell they would ring outside to let us know when it was time to come home.

I don't know what the answer is for my own kids. When my kids ask to go on a hike I make sure there is at least two of them and I prefer it if they take the dog with them. It's so nice that I have the park across the street, but they still have to have someone with them when they go or friends at the park who they will be with. They absolutely have to tell me where they are going or they risk being grounded from friends or bikes. I wish it were different, but other than having my own house out in nature, I don't know how to really let them roam free.

Ashley Case said...

I know I always had to let my mother know where I was, but I totally didn't mind it. I honestly think I will treat my kids about how I was treated. Reminded of the rules frequently (like no talking to strangers, look both ways before crossing the street, etc.) given a curfew, telling my mom where I was going and who I would be with, but allowed to make my own fun and explore where I wanted really.

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