Children are the future of the society that we live in. You were once a child, I was once a child. It is in fact true that 100% of adults were once children. Somehow it would seem that we as adults forget that. I have two children, ages 6 and 9. And a new one on the way. The course of the last 9 years has brought me into a great realization about our society as a whole: We spend a whole lot of time not including our kids in our activities. This is a broad statement, and throughout this blog I will narrow it down, but for now let’s just say that I have noticed a trend of less and less child inclusion. This is part of an even bigger social problem that we are facing: increasing connection to technology that allows us to distance ourselves from others while we are still in close proximity to them.
The major concern that I have is that children are being left out of very important moments that will later help them in their development. This stuff is widespread in the community in which I live. It is not uncommon to see folks do all manner of finagling so that they do not have to bring their kids with them to do very common and often boring tasks. If the mundane tasks in life are hard to accomplish with your kid/kids in tow, I cannot imagine how hard it must be to accomplish things that are much more difficult. I had the intuition early on with my son that I was going to bring him to do all of the things in life that I do as well, no matter how boring it would inevitably be for him, or hard for me. I have carried this mentality on with me throughout his life and my daughter’s life.
Carrying this mentality with me has been such a blessing in so many ways, because the vast majority of the work was up front. To be sure there are still difficult times, and in many ways the battles have changed, but I no longer have to deal with crying kids in the woods or out in my canoe. Our family spends a lot of time outside, with a goal of eating a lot of wild food in our diet, and our kids have been brought up knowing this fact. They can look forward (or not) to spending a lot of time in the woods each summer picking berries and mushrooms. It is so ingrained in them now that even if they do not like it they go with us and help in our foraging.
For millennia this was the norm. It would have been unthinkable to question this mindset. Only now with our vast resources and food supplies can we possibly entertain the notion that our kids can afford to not know the information that we know. We are suffering from our own success. But the great thing, is that we don’t have to choose this path. We can, and should include our children in the activities that we ourselves love. Our kids are little sponges, and chances are that inclusion in activities like foraging or hiking and camping will set a trend for them for the rest of their lives.
Including your children in foraging sets them up for a life of knowledge that many of us never had growing up. Both children and adults can benefit from this directly and indirectly. Directly because now you have more hands to help pick the foods you want to pick, and indirectly because your child benefits deeply from a life spent breathing fresh air and eating healthy wild food, and this has long lasting implications. Just being outside has a range of health benefits, but if you add in the time spent with family, you get even more.
One of the most saddening things to me is when parents don’t include their children in activities that they enjoy like hiking or fishing, and then in their teen years they try and get them interested in these outdoor activities only to find that the kid is not interested at all. This stems from a few different places. First and foremost, kids become accustomed to the activities that they participate in. Second, a child left out for their entire life will not feel enticed to participate in something in his or her teen years that he or she was left out of until you deemed him or her ready.
It is a symptom of our culture that children should be left out of everything, and that they should be treated like babies. I once read a very dense book on the culture of some of the Australian Aborigines, and in that book it was not uncommon to see pictures of little three and four year olds holding lizards that they had hunted. Children are capable of so much more than they are given credit for, they just need time to hone in those skills and learn how to behave. The people that they learn these life skills from are their parents.
This kid ain’t
Recently I was out with a buddy harvesting wild rice (Zizania palustris) and I met a father and his young son, they also were harvesting. This kid was only seven years old and he had managed to knock almost 50 pounds of wild rice into their canoe. I was shocked, because I know adults that don’t work that hard in the rice. Two days later I saw the same duo out harvesting again, this time with what looked like even more rice in their canoe. Children are incredibly able little beings, they just need to be given the opportunity to show us.
The benefits of being in natural settings are very real. Some of the documented health benefits include:
Immune system boost
Lowers blood pressure
Reduces cortisol levels
Increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
Increases energy level
If you are here reading this blog, chances are that you are yourself into outdoor activities, and if you have children or know someone that does I would encourage you to take your kids or their kids with you on your next outing. Yes, it is a horrible pain in the butt at first. That is true, but the lifetime of benefits to their health and the health of humanity in general depends on people just like you making these tiny decisions to engage your children in the beauty that is the world out of doors. If you decide that your kids are worth taking with you, and passing on to them the gift of knowledge that comes with nature interaction, you will be giving them a better chance at living a healthier life not only physically, but psychologically as well.
If all of this still has not convinced you to take your kids outside with you, I suggest you get a copy of the book “ Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. It is an absolutely wonderful book to get you and your kids outside. Link to the book is below!