On the child

"Our image of the child is rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent and, most of all, connected to adults and other children." [loris malaguzzi]

Friday, September 9, 2011

WILD CHILD: Why I Wouldn't Trade My Childhood for Anything

A couple of weeks ago, I read a recent thought-provoking and memory-inducing interview from blogger Frog Mom with author and nature-activist Richard Louv about his newest book The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder. Inspired by the resounding response to her blog entry, Frog Mom or Laure Latham, contacted the book’s publishers and obtained two free copies of Louv’s book. Then she posed the following question on her blog and Facebook page: “What is your favorite nature memory as a child?”

Here is what I commented on Frog Mom’s blog, which BTW you can check out at http://www.frogmom.com:

My happiest childhood memories involve nature in some way or another. I grew up in the Italian countryside in an old farmhouse surrounded by the bounty of the outdoors: hay fields, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, woods, streams, verdant lawn (that my mother managed to somehow carve out of the fields of hay), my favorite weeping willow, an enormous raspberry patch, chickens & ducks, an amazing German Sheppard named Teddy, wild rabbits and hares, and my neighbors who were farmers and the salt of the earth. Perhaps my fondest memory is of my sister and I being allowed to go jump around in the stacks of fresh hay one fall evening in our nightgowns. I will be forever grateful to my mother and father for making the move from an apartment in Rome to that natural paradise. It was so much a part of the early childhood educator I am today!
 Here is what I added on Frog Mom’s Facebook page:
Now that the question has been asked, the memories keep flooding in ... jumping on haystacks in my jammies; building a fort on the side of the barn and threatening to run away from home if my sister and I were not allowed to spend the night in it; making perfumes and potions from the flowers, berries and herbs harvest around us;playing hide & seek with the wild rabbits that suddenly multiplied from the few our neighbors asked for permission to release from their pens; tossing rotten persimmons at the side of the barn when I was supposed to be collecting them and composting them before the bees found them; and the mind-blowing taste of hazelnut cake made from nuts we helped to harvest and raspberry gelato that was almost worth all the scratches from the thorns! And 6 years ago, on my last visit to my childhood home, I sat in a pit of mud with my then 2-year-old nephew in our pjs, following his lead and loving tossing fresh mud balls at the side of that same barn! Every once in a blue moon, he asks me if I think the mud balls are still there!
Last night I received my much-anticipated copy of The Nature Principle and by the wee hours of this morning I was nearly a third of the way through the book, and had filled it with underlining and notes crammed into the margins. More thoughts of this book and how Louv’s writing connects to my own practice as an early childhood education professional and my life as a human being on this planet in a later post.

In an article in the September 1st online edition of the New York Times titled “On Outdoor Experience and Environmental Values,” writer Andrew Revkin reminds us that “a starting point for building a thriving, but humanized, planet is familiarity with wild things.” Revkin also writes about Richard Louv's new book and how he continues to drive home his POV: we all need, but children in particular, sustained and meaningful experience in the non-built world (that thing called “nature”) as a path toward forging a passion to conserve it.

What could you do in your little patch of earth, backyard, community garden or vacant lot to foster a child's (and an adult's) encounters with nature?

For inspiration and food for thought, check out the burgeoning efforts of early childhood educator Dianne who just inaugurated Stomping in the Mud Play Group in the side yard of her Victoria, BC home. You can follow her blog at: http://www.stompinginthemud.blogspot.com/

“Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming.”
[E.O. Wilson, The Naturalist, 1994]
“For ourselves, and for our planet, we must be both strong and strongly connected — with each other, with the earth. As children, we need time to wander, to be outside, to nibble on icicles, watch ants, to build with dirt and sticks in the hollow of the earth, to lie back and contemplate clouds….”
[Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble in The Geography of Childhood]
“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets. And any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.”
[Luther Burbank, American horticulturalist and botanist, 1849 – 1926]

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