skinned knees

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees…"

 Richard Louv

Giving my five-year old daughter a bath on the last night of the summer holidays, the two of us suddenly realised her shins were lined with bruises and her knees and arms bore an impressive collection of scabs. We talked about them being evidence of a super fun summer: that stack riding through the parklands with ‘Pops’, kayaking at the beach on Australia Day, swinging from the tree branch out the front.

my daughter kayaking with Pops over summer

A wave of pride and nostalgia caught me – this tanned, spirited little kid instantly took me back to my own childhood and the essence of what seemed like endless summer holidays.

I remembered my own skinned knees and the rough soles of my feet as I raced barefoot along gravel paths on long balmy nights. Afternoons spent climbing high into the old almond trees in the backyard. BMX riding with the neighbourhood kids and that epic stack my sister had when I tried to dinky her up a curb at full speed. The hours spent exploring the local urban creekline, daring ourselves to venture under the bridge and beyond the next bend...

I feel fortunate to have experienced a childhood that had some freedom in outdoor play and lots of time in nature – definitely not so much as my parents’ generation, but enough to know the excitement and freedom it offers; the lure of discovery, adventure and challenge.

my own childhood: fond memories of exploring the Flinders Ranges

My two children are now growing up in an era where there's less freedom to roam, fewer undeveloped areas, more technology and heightened safety concerns.... resulting in, amongst other things, a greater disconnect with nature. The impact of this disconnect is concerning - research shows unstructured nature-based play is vital for the development of children's imagination, decision making, conflict resolution and risk assessment abilities. 

As Paul Jarvis of Nature Play WA notes, the aforementioned skills “are all crucial elements of the type of growing medium required for the development of resilient, engaged and creative children and young adults".

Things won’t go back to the days of my childhood, or my parents, and sometimes it's hard to not feel a bit flat comparing today to those romanticised memories. However, it's important to recognise there still are opportunities to integrate kids with nature, and most importantly, there's opportunity for individuals and communities to shape our future. 

One of the things I can do as a parent is to make a conscious decision to bring as much nature based play into our modern urban life. I want to simplify things and gently provide opportunities to let my children wonder and explore; to support them to grow into resilient, engaged kids who will try things, take some risks, greet challenge, and find comfort in the outdoors. 

And if the size of my five year old's semi-toothless grin as she thinks back on her summer is any indicator, I think we're starting down the right path.   

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