Inspired by Grass Stain Guru: The Joys of Being a Free Range Kid

One of my favorite bloggers, Bethe Almeras, the Grass Stain Guru, has a consistent and wonderful gift for capturing the joys of childhood and the outdoors. She has posted often about simple pleasures, outdoor creatures, and all kinds of activities and play.

Recently she posted a short reminiscence called Free Range Guru about her childhood in which she enjoyed the freedom to wander, explore and play in nature. She also regularly accessed her imagination — so much so that she actually talked to sticks. It’s a lovely post and it sparked the memories of readers, including me.

What it brought up for me was this:

“I also talked to sticks! And ants and bees and rocks and marguerite daisies and tiny flowers that grew on bushes in Southern CA that had a distinctly wonderful smell. I lived in an apartment until age 9 and, while I loved moving into a house with a big backyard and a perfect climbing tree, the apartment neighborhood also offered wonderful opportunities for exploration.

I lived in walking distance of two lovely parks and my walking mom took advantage of them. But I also found plenty to observe in the (sometimes green) spaces between and around buildings, and at 6 or 7 I would announce that I was taking an adventure walk and would do just that. People of all generations (well, mostly seniors and kids) seemed to be around and, except for crossing streets, which I was allowed to do one by one, it was not particularly exceptional to do this.

I also had media and school and activities, but there did seem to be a space for exploration and imagination that many kids don’t have today. I know I have a certain sense of the natural world, of neighborhood and community, as well as a delight in being by myself, as a result of these childhood experiences.”

Does this sound like a child you might know today? Perhaps, but more likely not. They don’t often find the same stretches of time available for play, the same parental spirit that lets a child  — in age-appropriate fashion — wander a bit. As a result, children miss out on opportunities for play, as well as development, friendships, and the ability to order and navigate their surroundings. As witnessed by Bethe, me, and so many others (including Lenore Skenazy, who writes the Free Range Kids blog), these skills and experiences can color our whole lives.

I also use my own experience to note that one needn’t grow up in a rural area to experience nearby nature. Nature and its value can be found in a park, or any wild or green space, even a small one and even one between apartment buildings.

I’m very excited about the work the Children and Nature Network is doing to inspire and educate people about ways to connect children to nature. So much so that I host their discussion forum. You might want to come along!

Following is a sample of the nearby nature where I grew up. As a kid, even the smallest (the better for secrets?), local, and not always particularly special looking, spaces fed imagination and play.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

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8 responses to “Inspired by Grass Stain Guru: The Joys of Being a Free Range Kid

  1. Suz, I love this! Thanks so much for mentioning my post & the kind words. Surely, with so many of us beating the drum of play, time spent in nature, what Lenore calls “sane parenting,” and just putting time for living back into life, we have to see the pendulum swing back the other way.

    Keep up the great work. Hugs- Bethe @balmeras

  2. What a wonderful post Suz. I was fortunate to have a carefree childhood, my parents allowed my brothers and I to roam and explore. As a parent it was important for me to allow my own children to experience that sense of freedom too.
    Children have a natural curiosity and sense of wonder, I believe if you introduce your child to the outdoors at an early age they will want to return to these happy places time and time again, if they are given the opportunity to do so. The more time they spend outdoors the stronger the connection the child will have with nature. The stronger the bond, the more likelier they are as teens to unplug and go for a walk with you in the forest.
    I also agree – that you do not have to grow up in a rural area to experience nature. Before we moved to the country, we lived in a top floor flat, with toddler in stroller and baby in pouch we managed to find nature at the local parks, long walks to the Botanical Gardens and brought nature into our home by growing plants and becoming owners of stick insects.

  3. This is a lovely post! Much of my youth was spent roaming my huge and wild backyard, discovering and “talking” to animals and feeling free to wander as I saw fit. It’s very different for my kids today & I appreciate the reminder that nature can be found in even the smallest — and most urban — of spaces.

  4. I don’t think I did a lot of roaming as a child, but I apparently ate the dirt out of our houseplants…so there you have it.

    We also went camping a lot, which definitely did have big influence on my life.

    Thanks for the lovely post.

  5. Thank you so much, dear Bethe, Marghanita, Debi and Mel for chiming in and offering your own memories. It seems when you scratch the surface, so many joyful adults carry memories that include some aspect of a carefree childhood. It’s that quality that it seems we want to pass on to the next generation. Nature and time just fuel the imagination, in the simplest ways, and their gifts are lifelong.

    Thank you for all for recognizing and writing about this, and for being such passionate partners on this great journey!

  6. I grew up in Venice, Italy, and spent tons of hours outdoors, also camping and sailing with my parents. I have great memories of “exploring” with a bunch of kids, the woods, the beach, diving in the water. To this day I open all the windows as soon as it gets warmer and go out in my garden to get air. I would love the same for my kids, but it is a different world now, and I don’t feel comfortable letting my kids, especially my daughter go outside and play alone. I wish I could. We do a lot of walks/hikes together and we also take them camping a lot, but it is a different feeling that when I was a kid. We recently went to Venice and my kids had a chance of being free range with some friends since it is still a very safe city, and they loved it.

  7. Hi Laura! Great to see you here. It’s wonderful to read your memories of growing up somewhere very different and exotic to me. They’re terrific memories, too, of course, and they seem to have flavored your love of air, light, gardening and food. (Laura is a talented chef with a sumptuous food blog.)

    My own daughter’s pretty free-range. She meets friends and plays in a nearby creek, pool, on bike trails, and has independence in our neighborhood and town. We’re luckier than many in our culture, I think, in that we live in a place where she can do that. She also uses her share of media, like most teens. And the culture has changed sufficiently since I was a kid so that there aren’t tons of kids outside all the time, like I remember.

    That said, she’s always had plenty of free time and free-range friends. All in all, it’s about the best it could be.

  8. Pingback: What’s Happening Wednesday | Backyard Mama

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