Updated: Mar 16, 2021
I recently read the book There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes: A Scandinavian Mom's secret to raising healthy, resilient and confident kids by Linda Akeson McGurk I would recommend reading this book if you haven't already got it on your bookshelf. Linda fondly remembers her own childhood in Sweden and gives her account of the differences raising her children in America, where the focus moves from taking positive risks that allow children to naturally develop core physical (and mental) stability and learn to make sense of the world by pushing boundaries exploring nature to risk management at every level resulting in a reduction of recess for children in American schools and an increase in behavioral disorders and a reliance on electronics.
This led me to reflect (my favorite thing to do) about my own childhood and I realised what a profound impact being outside had on me as a child. In the early 90's we had the freedom to explore our local park and area, in the safety of the older children who looked out for us. I have fond memories of going out all day making mud pies, climbing trees, emerged in imaginative play, building dens and only returning home when the sunset and we felt a cool breeze as the evening air dropped in temperature. With no phone, watch or location tracker we really did have the freedom children crave in modern times.
Something my eldest daughter who is now 14 despite growing up in a small remote village, which was safe for her to explore in Somerset did not make use of these luxuries. Somewhere along the way I lost touch with my own childhood, and became risk adverse. She struggled to have imaginative play and feel safe enough to explore the local area with her friends even as she got old enough to do so. The village was full of fields, shallow rivers and trees worthy of a climb. I admit I took a slightly helicopter approach with her, being my first born and a young inexperienced mother myself at the age of 20, with no younger siblings.
This comes a surprise for me as a young baby I took her out in her sling everyday with dogs across the fields and enjoyed the closeness to her and nature. I cannot pinpoint when my approach to nature changed or why given my love of the outdoors as a child, I was happy in the park, woods the beach, anywhere I could explore. I see the impact of disconnection from nature in her as a teen, and wonder if I had pushed that risk taking in nature a little more would she feel more resilient in todays world?
Many studies in the culture of Scandinavian countries show taking children, including young babies outside even in cold conditions has many benefits to the immune system, development and resilience. As a bonus babies have also been shown to sleep longer when left outside, of course dressed appropriately. Something I can confirm as with my two youngest, we go out every morning whatever the weather and they have always been epic nappers.
The approach these Scandinavian countries has led to many other countries adapting the forest school ethos, which is shown to help children develop an awareness about the climate, the importance of looking after nature and addressing topics such as eco friendly products and recycling. I am excited to see effects of schooling this way has on gen z and the culture of eco warriors I see developing before me.
The change in my parenting with my two youngest daughters has meant that they are both developing much different with my more relaxed approach to parenting, the older wiser me knows to let me explore the textures of the ground, get muddy and climb small mountains in the rain. Why? Because there is so much good bacteria in soil that improves the immune system, the development of their physical ability depends on them challenging their bodies and there are studies that have shown a reduction in mental disorders such as ADHD when children are exposed to more time outdoors. Who doesn't feel better after blowing the cobwebs away after a family stroll on a Sunday?
I admit as a young single mother screen time was a complete live safer, I am not against screens, however I do know limit the amount of time my girls have in favor of family time in nature. For me the greatest attachment to all of my child has been babywearing, offering the girls to not only explore the natural world instead of staring at the sky, but also tuning into the rhythmic movement of my body and feeling soothed by the sound of my heartbeat.
Nature offers us as a family time out from the business of the daily grind, our favorite family holiday is a small log cabin the depths of Dartmoor with no phone signal or shops, surrounding only by forest, a beautiful river and silence. When in a nature we connect to our authentic self's and commit to being fully present with our children to explore barefoot the mud, moss, paddle in the refreshing water and find bugs to create small homes. Family camping trips spending the evening gazing at the stars and huddled around a small campfire are the memories I hope remain imprinted in my children's memories as they grow in this ever changing world.