Up North and Off the Grid: Children in the Woods

When my youngest daughter was around eight years old, a friend suggested I might be interested in a book called Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. My immediate thought was, “I don’t need to read that book, I’m already living with that child!”

A few years later I happened to see the book in audio form at our library. I figured I could listen to it while working on my pottery. What an amazing book!

Indeed it confirmed my first reaction, I was living with this “child in the woods.” Louv’s premise is that our children do not get enough opportunities to get outside, to be free to explore nature. It doesn’t matter if the child has the amazing wilderness of my backyard or a simple neighbourhood park. Kids need to be outside. And they need to have unstructured time while out there.

Today’s children tend to be over-programmed. They have been made into mini copies of their parents, with every moment of the day in a planned activity or in front of a screen. Louv has scientific research to prove that the lack of nature in children’s lives has a very detrimental effect. He calls it “Nature Deficit Disorder.” It manifests as the more commonly known ADD (attention deficit disorder). Instead of giving these children the freedom to play outside, they are given Ritalin. This is scary. One reason kids don’t get enough outside time is that modern parents tend to be super-protective. We worry about letting our kids out of sight. When I was a kid, I hardly saw my parents all day, except for lunch. But that was a long time ago. We live in a very different world today.

Yet, there is still hope. We can be conscious parents, and find ways to let our kids discover nature. With summer at our door, one of the great things we can do for our kids is to send them to camp. Any good old-fashioned camp will do. The kids live in cabins in the woods; they swim, canoe, kayak, hike, meet new friends, generally get dirty, and have a great time.

Even though my daughters have lived in the woods all their lives, both spent weeks away at camp every summer. Sometimes they were at a YMCA camp, sometimes at private camps. I think their favourite camp is a little place on the north shore of Lake Huron. Camp Manitou is an amazing place, run entirely by volunteers. It does not have co-ed camps, which is one reason I like it so much. Girls need to be girls, and boys need to be boys. While they are at summer camp, they don’t need the distraction of mixed groups. At Manitou, the month of July focuses on girls-only camps for the first two weeks, and boys-only for the second. August is filled with “family camps,” so everyone can enjoy a great time living the simple life.

Take some time yourself to (re)discover Nature. She is healing, inspiring, restful, and just what we all need to bring our lives into focus.

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