By Mutryce A. Williams
Navigating "Island" Parenting is a submission of insights, quotes, tips and parenting advice that I have gathered over the years as a source of inspiration and as tools to deal with the daily challenges of parenting. This week’s issue: Nature is the Best Playground – Instilling an Appreciation for Nature. The hope is that this submission would cause you to reflect on your parenting skills and also make the journey of parenting a bit easier or brighter.
Nature is the Best Playground
Over the years I have been asked by family and friends, “What do your children do all day if you have such strict and limited screen time guidelines? How do they survive? How do you survive?” I ask, “What did you do as a child? How did your parents survive while raising you?” I then respond in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “They live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, and drink the wild air.”
I continue, “My children basically do the same thing that I did as a child. They play outside and I provide lots of opportunities for them to interact with nature because I have found that nature is the best and most inexpensive playground. It is a lesson that I have brought over from my childhood years and I take full advantage of it.”
You see, as a child, I spent most if not all of my childhood outdoors. As long as the sun was up there was no reason to be cooped up inside, even when it rained, I was out exploring. I was always off on some adventure with my cousin Jermaine, who is just a month older than I am.
We explored Willets’ and Belmont’s estates, looked dates at ‘Church’ which is what we called the Anglican Church yard, and foraged for guavas at the guava patch just past the ‘Pavilion.’ He was the climber or the one who stood afar pelting stones up the tree to get that desired fruit and I was the one who dashed under the tree to collect the fruit, as there were also other brother and sister or cousin teams who were foraging at the same spot.
I recall an instance, as the mark is still quite visible on my forehead when a misguided missile/stone landed right smack on my head from one of our many adventures. To this day the debate still ensues as to whose stone it was that ‘chopped’ me. Was it my cousin’s or was it our childhood friend, Chafee? We spent so many days frolicking ‘down the Bay.’ During crop we would break or as we say ‘bruk’ cane and have a feast.
On your way to or from an adventure you may hear a mother or grandmother ask, “You see So and So?” The response, “He was going down the Bay when I was coming up,” or “I pass him on the line say he going go look cane.” There were days of going to my great-grandfather’s ‘ground’ or plot of farming land to help out. I was quite young but I do remember.
There were also days of ‘pulling pinda’ or peanuts when Mr Smith my neighbour had harvested. There lengthy talks with him about what was going on in the MacDonald’s Farmer’s Almanac, when he was going to plant or reap a harvest. There were also so many lessons about nature.
A friend and I were going down memory lane recently when she jokingly reminded me that my lovely grandmother would reply when she had telephoned for me, “She isn’t here she went up the road to feed her pigs. I will let her know that you called.” My school friends who lived in town found this quite amusing but I was quite proud because I was a country girl. The pig, a birthday gift served as a great source of income as she had many piglets, a great lesson in economics and entrepreneurship but that’s another story. Thinking back, they were simple and fun times.
Now I say all this to say that I am quite aware that my sons will never have the same childhood experiences that I have had. But why can’t they have something close? They live on an island after all. I will take this opportunity to share with you a most recent encounter, which prompted this edition of Navigating ‘Island’ Parenting.
How the definition of childhood fun has been grossly distorted
A most recent encounter with the brash 13-year-old son of a friend, who thought it fit to provide an unsolicited and rather scathing critique of my parenting set me thinking. The young man saw it fit to inform me that he was “very sorry” for me sons. He continued, “I am concerned that they are going to grow up not knowing what ‘real’ fun is.” I literally gasped.
The thought that immediately flashed across my mind, apart from, “The nerve on this child,” was, “hold it one moment there, was I missing something?” My boys, self-described nature explorers were always off on some adventure, by land or sea. They were always laughing, or tussling playfully with each other. They are happy kids. They looked happy. Didn’t they? I couldn’t help but wonder. What was this boy seeing that I didn’t see?
Although I was quite taken aback by his ‘brashness’ I engaged him as I wanted to know what his idea of fun was. He was a boy after all, an authority figure of sorts on the subject. A Cheshire cat grin on his face and posturing, he said, “I have never seen them watch television and they don’t even own a Nintendo DS, PlayStation or video games. All boys love to watch television. All boys love to play video games. This is fun. This is what boys do.” He continued, “Look around what are the other boys doing at the picnic, playing video games, talking to each other about video games. Where are your sons?” I smiled and replied, “Swimming in sea, which is where you and the other boys need to be.” The conversation ended.
I will go further and share the response of a friend when I informed her that we took the children to explore the bat caves at Barren Spot with the St Croix Environmental Association. Her expression, “Why you don’t stop harassing the children and let them be normal children; buy them a video game or something. You are always taking them on some white people thing.”
There was also another incident that troubled me about our attitude toward nature, the environment and how we are raising our children. My younger son had career day at school. He wants to be, in his words, “a nature conserver” but I suppose he means a conservationist. Dressed in his full conservationist gear, the comments were, “What is he supposed to be? Why does he want to do that? Why don’t you encourage him to become something like a doctor? I would expect that you would want a doctor.” I tell you, we West Indians can really be something eh.
All this set me thinking. What do our children have today? What are we teaching them? What are we exposing them to? How will they learn to appreciate nature when we have no appreciation for it? Can they learn about nature or its beauty by sitting in front of a television or with a handheld game lodged between their palms?
Let me throw this in as many of us think that computers is the way to go, we can’t all be computer engineers. We do have to eat, so without farmers, agriculturalists, lovers of animal science how are we going to eat? We throw around the word sustainability so much but we fail to instill a love for the earth or nature our children. Who is going to ensure ‘sustainability?’ There is so much that can be said on this topic. I won’t jump on my soapbox.
When my sons are older and have cause to reflect upon their childhood, I want them to be able to say with a smile on their face that most of their days were spent running around their yard, exploring the grounds of the Whim Plantation, running through the St Georges Botanical Garden, on some exploration with the St Croix Environmental Association or frolicking at one of the many beautiful beaches.
I don’t want their childhood memories to be that of sitting in front of the television all day watching a marathon television shows no matter how educational. Their childhood would not be one where they are glued to a handheld or video gaming device, just because this is what all of the kids are doing or because this is the parenting trend of the day. This is not what I want for them, so if this is what happiness, being a normal boy in today’s world is, I want none of it for them.
Do you remember what your childhood was like? How does it compare to that of your children? Is the childhood that they have, what you have envisioned for them?
Gentle Parenting Reminder
“Please remember, we all had a playroom growing up. It was called the Outside. Children will explore when they are given opportunities to do so and not given a reason why they cannot. Also take note that to discover and understand the world, a child needs social interaction and hands on exploration. Constant passive screen time slows down interactive development, and hinders imagination and creativity, so get out there and do ask yourself, how this next generation is going to save the environment if they haven’t actually spent enough time in it.” Unknown
Quotes about Nature and Children
“Every child is born a naturalist; their eyes are by nature open to the glories of the stars, the beauties of the flowers and the mysteries of life.” R. Search
“When children come into contact with nature they reveal their own strength.” Maria Montessori
“Kids are natural little outdoor people; it is we, the adults who turn them into indoor people. If we don’t get off our computers, why should they?” Mark Jenkins
“Unless we are willing to encourage our children to reconnect with and appreciate the natural world, we can’t expect them to help protect and care for it.” David Suzuki
“Ask anyone what their best childhood experiences are, I bet that they are all outside, playing in the long grass, making huts, climbing trees, going camping…” Unknown
“Happy Children play outdoors. Outdoors children can run about and have a sense of freedom they wouldn’t otherwise have inside.” Unknown
Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better. Albert Einstein
When the well is dry, we know the worth of water. Benjamin Franklin
Nature does not hurry but everything is accomplished. Lao Tzu
Nature is not a place to visit. It is home. Gary Snyder
Every realm of nature is marvelous. Aristotle
‘Study Nature, love nature, and stay close to nature. It will never fail you. Frank Lloyd Wright
Recommended Reading for Children
A Child’s Introduction to Natural History, The Story of Our Living Earth From Amazing Animals and Plants to Fascinating Fossils and Gems
written by Heather Alexander, Illustrated by Meredith Hamilton
– National Geographic 2,500 Animals with Photos, Maps and More
Mama Miti Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya
written by Donna Jo Napoli, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Nature in a Nutshell for Kids 100 Experiments You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less
written by Jean Potter
DK Smithsonian Super Nature Encyclopedia the 100 Most Incredible Creatures on the Planet
The Berenstain Bear’s Big Book of Science and Nature
(Dover Children’s Books) by Stan and Jan Berenstain
N is for Nature – An Environmental Nature Book
written by Tim Magner, Illustrated by Mike Nudelman
National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry
edited by J. Patrick Lewis former US Children’s Poet Laureate
Over in a River, Flowing Out to the Sea
written by Marianne Berkes, Illustrated by Jill Dubin
The Everything Kids Nature Book Create Clouds, Make Waves, Defy Gravity and Much More
written by Kathiann M. Kowalski
Recommended Reading for the Parent
Sharing Nature – Nature Activities for All Ages
written by Joseph Cornell
Mutryce A. Williams, a native of St Kitts and Nevis is the mother of 7-year-old Daniel and 6-year-old Nicholas. She not only values the many facets of West Indian parenting but also thinks that there is vast room for improvement. A former educator and a child/youth advocate, Mutryce firmly believes that children should not only be seen but heard. She may be contacted at email@example.com