We are on the brink of summer. We really are. It seems to have happened overnight: lilac bushes just about ready to bloom, serviceberry plants flowering, dandelions everywhere, and fresh local food from the farms. Summer really is just around the corner.
With the arrival of summer comes wonderful opportunities to be outside with our children. Even at 8:30 p.m. in the evening, as the breeze cools and the chill sets in, our small person is still asking, “Outside time now? More outside time, please now?”
And first thing in the mornings, when he would typically gravitate towards his father’s iPhone, he is instead now wandering towards the door: “Now outside time?”
This small one already understands, so early in his young life, what a gift this beautiful weather is. We walk outside, we ride bikes, we dig in the garden. And he observes with wonder: “Sunshine! Sunshine now!”
Yes, there is sunshine, and it is truly wonderful, and yes we shall go outside.
A special gift
What an opportunity and a gift it is for us all. Certainly there are drizzly days, and foggy days, as we still wait for the capelin to roll. There are cold iceberg-in-the-air days, and there are mauzy, days filled with black flies. But in all this wonderful variety of weather we have, there is always something exciting to discover outside—and for our children to discover as well.
Our small person has the added advantage of growing up on a farm, where we don’t have to leave in order to have an outdoor adventure. On these days, I let him guide me most of the time. I may make a small suggestion here or there, but for the most part our adventuring is left up to him. He is the one who is discovering. And in his wonder and discovery, he is also showing me new things and opportunities and observations all the time.
Already, at two and a half years of age, I am amazed at the sense of direction he has developed. As we walk through the farm trails, I ask him which way we should go.
“Hmmm, maybe this way. This way to barn.”
Or, “this way to pond,” or “this way to compost.”
And he is always right. He knows his way around the maze of trails on the farm, and can direct me to all the various places that we like to go.
The skills of summer
It’s wondrous to watch these skill sets develop.
Likewise, he is developing an awareness of his body as we run through the trails, ride bikes over rocks, bounce through fields, and even roll in the dirt. We spend time in the garden, as he learns about worms and ants and growing seeds — and he drags sticks and tries to build things.
Certainly there are opportunities for learning with technology as well—he is a child of the Internet age, growing up with iPhones and iPads. He will be exposed to learning opportunities with technology as soon as he begins school. But it amazes me to learn that the average North American child spends just 30 minutes of outdoor play time per day, and up to seven hours in front of a screen each day. With such a huge amount of time spent stationary in front of a screen, I worry about the physical effects this may have on children.
Children are boundless creatures who have an innate sense of movement. Through movement, children are able to develop a physical awareness of their body and promote their own body growth and spatial awareness. Where are the opportunities for running, jumping, climbing, tripping, skipping, dancing, swinging, hopping, crawling, rolling, wiggling? How do these lack of opportunities affect how our children grow and develop?
Certainly there is no denying that in this era, our small one will grow up with technology as part of his life. But as he grows up, I want him to also be able to experience nature and connect with the world as a whole. That is to say: the whole world, not just what technology enables us to connect to.
In being outside and exploring nature, our small one is also developing an understanding and connection to animals great and small. There is the moose we watched one morning grazing near a field; there are endless rabbits that hop along trails; there are worms and ants and spiders and carpenters in our garden; there are juncos and chickadees and blue jays and crows; there are even the rats in the compost pile. All of us are enjoying our time outdoors. There is also the freshness of the air to help him grow, as opposed to the stuffiness of the indoors; there are opportunities to stretch and move his body; there are chances to learn his limits as he stumbles or falls.
There is a great, great connection to our land, and to all that it gives us, all that it provides, and all that we can do to help it to thrive.
There is so much simplicity, and greatness, in just being outside in nature. Whether we are exploring farm trails, walking around Signal Hill, or strolling down sidewalks observing the sky, the airplanes, the traffic, the birds, the clouds, the new things growing in people’s yards — there is so much that the outdoors gives us.
This small person understands that, and is understanding more and more every day, even at this young age. I’m just along for the ride, really.