Thinking Outside the Screen

by Melissa Harding

Summer Reruns: Just like your favorite television shows go on hiatus for the summer, so does the blog. We will be running eighteen summer camps in eight weeks, so we will be a little busy! In place of original posts, Tuesdays will now feature some of the blog’s most popular posts from the last year. Fridays will feature that week’s camps, with pictures, crafts and lesson ideas for parents and educators.

Rachel Carson writes in A Sense of Wonder, “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength”. Carson’s wish was for children to truly experience nature and immerse themselves in it. She knew that natural spaces innately stimulate the limitless imagination of childhood.

Perhaps that is why some of the most imaginative and innovative thinkers of the 20th century have documented histories of playing in nature (Source). Thomas Edison grew up on his sister’s farm, spending copious amounts of time trying to hatch chicken and goose eggs. Eleanor Roosevelt was prone to disappearing into the woods and field for hours, making up stories about the animals she encountered. Beatrix Potter and her brother boiled dead animals to make skeletons. Jane Goodall, my personal naturalist hero, slept with worms under her pillow (and then went on to break barriers for women scientists everywhere).

Creativity and nature play isn’t only important to future leaders and geniuses; regular people report the same memorable outdoor experiences from their own childhoods. Creative kids turn into creative adults, but it is harder for children to find poetry and a sense of wonder in nature when they are surrounded all day by screens, stuck inside and captivated by electronics. What if there was a day with no screens and no electronics?

Why can’t that day be today?

If you want to help your child increase his creativity and learn to think outside the box (or screen), let him wander outside. Just five minutes outside can reduce stress and relax the mind; imagine what a half hour or half of a day could do! Without the pressure of their cell phones, homework, friends and parents, children can be free to enjoy and derive meaning from the natural world. Carson herself spent a good deal of her childhood wandering around the rural river town where she was born. She explored and mused, finding solitude in her thoughts and wonder all around her.

“The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused – a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love  – then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has meaning.” Only by creating a foundation of love for the natural world will it have meaning for our children. If we want them to love it, then we need to let them play in it – without screens.

The above photo was taken by Christie Lawry.

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