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Where Bloggers Live: Last Child in the Woods

Welcome back to the monthly edition of Where Bloggers Live! I am lucky to have joined a terrific group of bloggers who give a peek into the places and spaces where they spend their time.

Today's topic is Childhood.

When you think about your childhood, particularly how you spent your time outside of school, what comes to mind? Do you have a lot of memories of playing outdoors and spending time in nature?

If you're a Gen X (like me) or a Boomer (like my parents), you probably do! Here are some memories of mine:

-Scissor-tailed flycatchers spaced along a wooden fence on a country road

-A flock of wild turkeys

-An agitated crow

-Baby ducklings swimming

-A tree absolutely covered in granddaddy longlegs

-Wildflowers growing in an empty lot

-Fruit trees in our backyard and the berry bushes just beyond it

-The turtles, snails, etc. that would appear in our yard after a rain

-Bees pollinating flowers

-Summer days at the lake

-Vacations to the Rocky Mountains, with a huge amount of time spent in the river next to our cabins

-The smell of honeysuckle in our backyard

-The smell of the woods after the rain

-The sounds of crickets and June bugs

-Walks in the park a block away

-Walks in the woods at the end of our street

-Running through the high rows of corn in our garden

-Lying on the grass, watching the clouds make morphing shapes in the sky

-Swimming in the river at summer camp

-Cooking dinner over an open fire at camp

-Camping in a tent in my backyard or a friend's backyard

-Making mud pies with my sister

-Digging for earthworms

-Riding my bicycle all over town

-Running from my sister, who was chasing me with rolly pollies in her hands

-Chasing butterflies and fireflies

-Collecting fallen leaves, rocks, seashells

-Watching the sun rise

-Examining animal tracks

-Looking for animal burrows

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Probably the most emblematic memory I have is this:

One summer, around 6th grade, my best friend and I spent quite a lot of time in a woods near her house. Some mornings after breakfast, I would ride my bike 2.5 miles to her house at the edge of town, and we would saddle up two of her family's horses. We'd ride down her street until it became a dirt road and we'd continue until we reached an entry point into the woods. We'd ride through the woods exploring new areas, but we'd eventually head to one of our favorite spots. I particularly remember an area next to a stream that had a fallen log that made the perfect bench for lying down. We spent that summer working on our plan for how when we were adults, we'd live in these woods (!). We put a lot of thought into a plan for digging out an underground shelter, for example. Eventually we'd ride back to her house and groom the horses, and I'd ride my bike back home.

This didn't seem like a big deal at the time, but when I think about it by modern standards, it's hard to fathom kids being given the freedom to roam and the time to play in nature that my sister and I (and older generations) had.

If you wonder about the costs of the diminishing connections children these days have to nature and what can be done about it, I highly recommend Richard Louv's The Last Child in the Woods. I first had the opportunity to read the original edition of the book when it first came out in 2005 in my role as a research analyst at a state department of natural resources with a focus on nature-based recreation. Even though I was already pretty well-versed in the many physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits people experience from spending time in nature and the unfortunate decline in time spent outdoors, I was still surprised at how much children in particular have lost as our society has shifted away from the natural world.

Reasons for alienation from nature:

  • Proliferation of electronic communications

  • Poor urban planning and disappearing of open space

  • Increased street traffic

  • Diminished importance of the natural world in education

  • Parental fear magnified by news and entertainment media

A few of the costs of a nature deficit:

  • Attention difficulties

  • Higher rates of physical and emotional illness

  • Lack of motivation

  • Diminished use of the senses

Some of the benefits of nature:

  • Serves as a buffer to depression and anxiety

  • Reduces stress and aggression

  • Reduces symptoms of ADHD

  • Helps prevent myopia

  • Boosts the immune system

  • Stimulates the ability to learn and create

  • Improves social bonding and prosocial behavior

  • Increases value placed on fellow human beings and the community

  • Improves self-esteem, conflict resolution, problem-solving ability

  • Satisfies the need for autonomy in children

  • Promotes spiritual well-being through connection, vibrancy, awe, joy, gratitude, and compassion

Tongue in cheek benefits of nature:

  • Spontaneous euphoria

  • Taking yourself less seriously

  • Being in a good mood for no apparent reason

Why is nature important to human life:

  • Biophilia Hypothesis - human beings are innately attracted to nature/life/living systems and have adaptive responses suited to natural environments, and this is rooted in biology

  • Attention Restoration Theory - voluntary/directed attention (active, requires effort) is a limited resource, and using it causes fatigue; involuntary attention (passive, reflexive, requires no effort or will) allows the brain to rest and causes voluntary attention capacity to be restored

  • Soft Fascination - natural environments are just stimulating enough to gently engage the brain's attention (involuntary attention) without unhelpfully concentrating it (voluntary/directed attention), and this allows the brain to be reinvigorated

So if nature is important to human life - physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually - what can we do to improve children's (and our own!) relationships to the natural world? Last Child in the Woods (which I am reading right now on Kindle) includes a Field Guide with a list of 100 nature activities for kids and families that parents and grandparents can use to get children involved in nature. The Children & Nature Network also has a lot of resources to support getting kids outdoors.

If you've stuck with me this far, thank you! This is a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I hope you will enjoy a few photos of wild birds I have taken. (I am by no means a skilled wildlife photographer, but it's a fun activity! #17 on the Last Child in the Woods nature activity list.)

Wood ducks - Wood Lake, Richfield MN - 9/11/2016
Canada geese - Maplewood Nature Preserve (MN) - 5/14/17
Great egret - Minnesota Valley NWR - 5/15/16
Wet sparrow - my "yard" (the trees next to my apartment balcony) in St Paul MN - 6/19/20

I'm not sure what next month's topic will be, but I always enjoy the opportunity to explore slightly different topics from my norm.

In the meantime, visit these lovely bloggers as they share about childhood today:

Bettye at Fashion Schlub

Do you have memories of spending time in nature? Do you spend time in nature now? Do you have any ideas/tips for involving kids in nature activities?

Blogs I link up with are listed here.


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Niki Kline
Niki Kline
Sep 01, 2022

Sounds like you had a great childhood! My parents told my brother & I to go outside, & we stayed out there until the streetlights came on. Well, the one streetlight on our road lol. We just bought a new house & I'm hoping that my son develops good friendships with some of the boys we've recently met in the neighborhood. For the first time yesterday a few boys came over to jump on our trampoline & then they went "exploring." We lived in an apartment for a few years, so this really brings me (& him I'm sure) joy. I can't imagine letting him go for 2.5 miles by himself, but my husband was a detective for 15 years,…

Sep 01, 2022
Replying to

Niki, it sounds like your new house and neighborhood are going to give your son some great opportunities and experiences hanging out with kids in the neighborhood and exploring outdoors. Today's parents are definitely having to balance these opportunities against risk, and it seems that you are being very thoughtful in your approach to it. It's definitely different from when I grew up in a small town as a Gen X kid in the 1980s! Thanks for the invite to your link party - I went over and linked this post to it just now!


Aug 19, 2022

OH yes, I have wonderful childhood memories of time spent in nature and have made sure that my kids have too. Living on a lake with a huge stretch of woods nearby it's fairly easy for us. We also like to hike a lot and even take a day or two on almost every vacation we've ever been on to check out a nature preserve or a natural spring or a new place to hike.

Aug 19, 2022
Replying to

That really shines through on your blog, Joanne! It's so wonderful that your own kids are growing up with time in nature as such a regular part of their lives. (And we all continue to benefit from our time in nature, don't we?)


Aug 18, 2022

It's well documented (from research studies) that spending time in nature benefits both our physical and mental health. This is true for adults and especially true for children who are growing through their formative years.

Thanks for participating in Talent-Sharing Tuesdays Link-Up 29.


Aug 18, 2022
Replying to

So true, Carol!


Gail Hanlon
Gail Hanlon
Aug 18, 2022

Fascinating post! I was fortunate to roam freely as a child, all day during the holidays. Your post and memories were very evocative. Reminded me of some of my memories: picking primroses from hedges, the smell of the countryside after rain, gathering blackberries and beech nuts.

Aug 18, 2022
Replying to

You have some lovely memories, Gail - I love the idea of the primroses in the hedges.


Aritha Vermeulen
Aritha Vermeulen
Aug 16, 2022

Thank you. I was a child, always playing outside. Now I am often in the forest again.

Aug 16, 2022
Replying to

It's a great place to be! Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Aritha.

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