Tag Archives: Childhood

New Research Links Time in Nature with Children’s Health

An important new paper has just been released that links children’s time in nature to their overall health. Using Nature and Outdoor Activity to Improve Children’s Health was published in the journal, Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care.

According to the forward, “Within just one generation, the definition of ‘play’ has changed dramatically among children in industrialized countries.” Before the 1980s, most children were encouraged to play outside, and much of that play was unsupervised. In January, 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that children ages 8- 18 spend an average of more than 7.5 hours per day using some sort of electronic screen.

These same children, the paper cites, may be the first generation at risk for having shorter lifespans than their parents and a variety of chronic conditions in childhood, such as childhood obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, vitamin D deficiency, ADHD, and depression.

The good news? Outdoor activity in natural environments may directly benefit children’s health in such areas as: Building and maintaining healthy bones and muscles; reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease; reducing feelings of depression and anxiety; and promoting psychological well-being.

I wrote more about the paper for the Children & Nature Network. That group also puts out a lot of excellent research about the many benefits of nature for children.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow Parenting Gaining Steam: It’s About Time

As people, especially parents, become busier than ever — perhaps driven by increasing economic and social pressures — we’re hearing about the counter movement of “Slow” more than ever, too.

ABC News recently ran a piece on Slow Parenting, which featured, among others, the wonderful Slow Family Living folks, who I have featured on my blog.

Most children are over-scheduled — psychologists, teachers and parents in the piece agreed. And that’s resulting in a generation of stressed-out kids, and parents. Said Bernadette Noll, Slow Family Living co-founder:

I think there’s the feeling of being frazzled. Kind of high anxiety on both the parents’ part and the kids’ part.

Slow Family Living co-founder and parenting coach Carrie Contey, and others in the piece, advocate clearing the schedules, adding more free time and play time, and letting go of the notion that, as parents, we have to be perfect.

Perfectionism truly can be the enemy of freedom and play. Writer Anne Lamott addresses this in a wonderful, funny and wise piece that appears in Sunset magazine.

We all hunger for creative expression in some form, Anne Lamott writes:

Creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

The trick, though, she notes, is making the time to have this in our lives.

That’s really what’s been at the heart of the Slow Movement for me and many others — finding the time, making the time, to connect with family and friends and that part of ourselves that yearns for beauty, peace and community, in whatever form it takes for us personally. We only get 24 hours each day. Deciding what we really want and then what to let go of is a huge step off the treadmill and onto a different path for many of us.

The great news is that more individuals and even groups are embracing this philosophy. No-Homework policies are popping up in school districts. The documentary film Race to Nowhere, which stemmed from director Vicki Abeles’ own parenting experiences, may be behind some of this. The film, which has been playing to sold-out audiences of parents and others across America, attempts to illuminate “the unintended consequences of the achievement-obsessed way of life that permeates American education and culture.”

There is a Race to Nowhere Facebook page, where people are sharing ideas. Slow Parenting is gaining steam, and, in more ways than one, it’s about time.

I hope that this blog will continue to provide inspiration about slowing down with your family; appreciating beauty, nature, and seasons; and fun things to do with all that new-found free time. 🙂 My Slow Family Resources page highlights lots of other great people, resources and ideas.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Mom’s Gifts of Nature

Today would have been my mom, Bunnie’s, 77th birthday. She died four years ago after a long illness. We were close but our relationship was not without rocky patches. Since I began working for Children & Nature Network a couple of months ago, I can say without hesitation that my appreciation for her has grown. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t thought about her influence on my enjoyment of nature and the gifts she gave me in that regard.

The gift of walking. My mom didn’t drive. In L.A., a place built especially for transportation by car. As a result, we walked everywhere when I was little. She walked with my brother and I to different parks and playgrounds, talking to us the whole time. She ran errands on foot (and then by bike when we were older), so that we had a sense of our place on the earth and in our community. We knew neighbors and shopkeepers and had a different kind of life than the kids who were driven places.

It helped that my parents had settled in Santa Monica, which they chose because it was (and is) a very walkable, livable place, with real streets where there are neighbor-serving businesses (this part has diminished over the years, as the businesses have largely gone upscale) and good public transportation. I rode the bus by myself at age 9. Pretty much everyone walked, biked, or bussed to and from school. I only recall a couple of rides to school ever, and those would have been early mornings in high school, when my dad would take me before he and Mom went to work.

I love to walk to this day. I enjoy the activity in itself, and a pace that allows you to engage with your surroundings and neighbors.

The gift of splashing in puddles. We didn’t have snow in Southern California, but we did get rain. My mom was not one to let the weather impede any plans. Dressed appropriately, in raincoats and boots, we were encouraged not only to walk in the rain but to enjoy it and to splash in the puddles. Her attitude was, “Who’s afraid of a little rain?” and I adapted it in junior high when I secretly looked down on my peers for using umbrellas. This seems a bit guerrilla now, but the spirit holds. To little kids, especially, rain is something to be enjoyed, not cowered from. And children’s bodies and clothes are meant for play.

The gift of summer camp. My mom was a Brooklyn girl, but her childhood memories from upstate New York’s Camp Guilford and Oxford had deeply imprinted on her. She talked lovingly of classic camp activities like archery and color wars. My parents worked summers; There were not a lot of family vacations. But what my brother and I did have was camp. I got to go to camp for nine summers, seven of them at Tumbleweed Day Camp, beginning incredibly enough when I was four.

I loved everything about Tumbleweed. It was in a gorgeous, special spot in the Santa Monica Mountains. Days began and ended by sitting by group in an amphitheater made of logs, singing folk songs. (I can still sing the camp and other songs.) I learned to swim there, and ride horses, and jump on a trampoline. We had cookouts and sleepouts and dress-up days. In the 70s we did modern dance to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” while the boys played caroms. There were nature hikes. (I learned about poison oak and bee stings.) We cared for animals and made lanyards and paint-and-macaroni covered cigar boxes. There was one camp craft I loved so much that we started doing it at home, too — gathering items from nature and placing them in a paper cup, pouring resin over the items so that the whole hardened into a medallion, and then drilling a hole and stringing it to make a necklace.

Because I loved camp so much (can you tell?), I sent my own daughter to camp and sought the most classic, outdoor-oriented ones I could find. So far she has attended five years of JCC Day Camp and three years at Mountain Meadow Ranch in California’s Lassen County, and I believe her experiences have been formative.

The gift of independent exploration. There is no doubt some personality trait involved, but I got on that camp bus by myself at age 4, and it wasn’t even an issue. I also, from maybe age 5 or 6 on, regularly took my own “adventure walks” around our neighborhood — with age-appropriate limits, like working up to crossing streets. My mom championed and encouraged these. She understood the power of exploring on ones own, the serendipity of what might transpire. That I called these “adventure walks”, even though they were in a neighborhood of suburban apartments, speaks volumes. Any walk can be an adventure, given the right spirit and desire to find something new. To this day, I enjoy being in a new place, whether it’s an exotic location or somewhere a bit more close-by and mundane. I like to have map and resources, to consult if need be, but I’ll also let curiosity take me someplace if I’m pretty certain I can find my way back. (Warning: This does not always fit others’ comfort levels.)

The gift of quiet and observation in nature. I believe I inherited my mom’s mix of gregariousness and solitude. On the solitude end of the scale, she loved any walk in nature, in various seasons, usually with her twin-lens Rolleiflex camera. (A camera case is visible in the above picture of her, which was taken among cherry blossoms in Japan.) She would slowly stroll, pausing often to aim her camera and look down into its viewfinder to compose her shots. She took great pictures — in New England falls, of the plants in the park near our house, in the Japanese gardens she loved. As it does with me, I believe nature provided her a kind of meditation. The photography was an activity within it, and then a result. It was fun in itself but also a way to harness and focus observation. On my early walks, I took a notebook. I now often carry a notebook and a camera. And, if my family is any indication, I can take just as long as Mom did to compose and take a shot.

The gift of appreciation of nature. My mom’s appreciation for the beauty of nature was apparent in her photos, and also in our home. She had a beautiful rose garden, which she lovingly tended. Once a week, she’d pick roses from it and arrange them in vases that would be placed around our house. She seemed to spend hours arranging them to please her aesthetic eye. I have memories of the lovely rose smells, the snipped stems on our kitchen counter, and also of her being lost in the activity, as her slender fingers repositioned the open roses in their vases. Here, I believe I have her eye but lack some of her patience.

Come to think of it, I especially enjoy taking pictures of wildflowers. Perhaps wildflowers embody much of the above, and so much of the gifts available in nature: serendipity and discovery, solitary enjoyment, continuing wonder and delight, appreciation, and sheer beauty of form.

For all these gifts of and in nature, Thank You, Mom!


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

Time Magazine Cover Story: Can These Parents be Saved?

Just out today, it’s already making the rounds as Time magazine’s most e-mailed story, its new cover piece: Can These Parents be Saved?

” … We just wanted what was best for our kids”, Nancy Gibbs’ piece begins, before detailing the ways in which extreme, fear-based safety practices, and efficiency models best left at the corporation door began infecting childhood. She writes:

We were so obsessed with our kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development.

The backlash against overparenting has come, she says, in part driven by changes in the economy:

…  a third of parents have cut their kids’ extracurricular activities. They downsized, downshifted and simplified because they had to — and often found, much to their surprise, that they liked it.

The article is a fascinating snapshot of the conundrums many parents face. We want to protect our children and give them opportunities, yet for some this has come with the dawning realization that many children are overcoddled, over-directed, and robbed of down time, free play, exploration, and the confidence and mastery that can come with making ones own discoveries and mistakes. In short, it’s the realization that, for all the attention, we are not doing our kids any favors.

Gibbs quotes Slow Movement pioneers Carl Honore and the Slow Family Living workshop folks, whom I have blogged about at length, as well as Lenore Skenazy, whose book, Free-Range Kids, is a tome of common-sense parenting in an often hysterical age.

Last weekend, I attended a lecture by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, author of A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens, which I highly recommend, as it walks parents through the set of tools children need to grow and prosper. Ginsburg cautioned against the perfectionistic streak in many parents who unwittingly add stress to their children’s lives by trying to professionalize their activities, and by being involved in harmful, rather than fruitful, guiding ways — including attempting to eliminate stress, rather than teach children ways to cope with inevitable stress.

I was struck, too, when Ginsburg said that creativity was a component many young adults now lacked. This was exhibiting itself in an inflexibility in the workplace and in relationships, no matter the field. How to foster creativity in the young? Play with them, encourage them to play on their own or direct the play (if you’re involved). In short, have fun and get out of the way.

For more Slow Family Online pieces about children, slow (joyful) parenting and play, see:

Gopnick: Babies Learn by Playing

Why Can’t She Walk to School?

An End to Overparenting?

Huffington Post Book Club Pick: In Praise of Slowness

About Slow Family Online

Photos: Miika Silfverberg, Susan Sachs Lipman