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.

Of course, I'm extremely excited about the work the Children & Nature Network is doing to inspire and educate people about ways to connect children to nature. And I'm thrilled that there are so many passionate people on this forum who are eager to share resources and tales, in the Children's Built Environment group, which addresses nearby nature, as well as in other groups and on the general board.

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. More photos can be seen on my blog, Slow Family Online.


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Comment by Suz Lipman on February 28, 2010 at 12:15pm
Sue and Amy, Thank you for your great comments. Nearby nature and beauty does take many forms and absolutely sets the stage for free-range adventures. Well put! Amy, I'm glad this stirred up memories and I look forward to seeing pictures. In fact, you in turn reminded me of playing in vacant lots when we moved to a more suburban neighborhood.
Comment by amy pertschuk on February 24, 2010 at 9:57pm
Suz, you have stirred up some far and distant memories for me. Growing up (ages 5 - 10) in a new housing development in NE Washington DC. Lots of concrete and "modern" 70's architecture. Yet, we still found the wild spots between the sidewalks and the landscaping, the climbable trees, the vacant lots, this "nearby nature" set the stage for our free-range adventures. You've inspired me to look for pictures of those long ago landscapes. Will post them here when I do.
Comment by Sue Mitchell on February 24, 2010 at 9:25pm
I agree that you don't need a lot of space to reap the benefits of being in nature. Being outside definitely sparks creativity, and being surrounded by beauty and soaking in solar energy is simply good for the soul, even if it's just a lovely garden space like in your pictures.

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