I’ve been thinking back on our week of camping and how we were immersed in nature 24 hours a day (excepting the two or three evenings we escaped the mosquitos by retreating to the camp’s clubhouse, which was outfitted with a pool table, cable TV, two leather recliners, and two public computers where the kids took turns logging onto Webkinz…can it still be considered camping with such high-tech luxuries?).All week we discussed the wildlife we encountered, wondering what eats what and wishing we knew the names of the fish and birds. I regretted not bringing along identification books. I had to guess on some of the wildlife in my photos, because although I had Internet access, I didn’t have time to dig online for photos and facts.Most of all, however, I was delighted that my kids were outside, enjoying fresh air, exercising, exploring, building and digging in the sand, learning from personal observation and experience, and growing in appreciation and respect of nature.Now we’re back from the land of Spanish moss, sea turtles, pelicans, and sand sharks, and back home again in Indiana, the land of corn fields, maple trees, creeks and ponds. I’m realizing I want to get these campers of mine outside as much as possible, to counteract lethargy and exposure to technology, while increasing fresh air and first-hand appreciation of their nearby surroundings.So I read with interest this story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal highlighting German kindergartens held in the woods instead of a brick-and-mortar classroom.The children, ages 3-6, never ask for toys. They climb trees, build benches from logs, and use actual coat trees (see the associated slide show). The children learn to whittle and even how to handle a real saw.
“A plastic saw is no good,” says Ms. Johnson. “You might as well give them a plastic life.” The worst that has happened thus far to the children is the occasional bee sting, she says.
In fact, the biggest complaint that comes up in the story seems to be about insects. The report cited a family whose son attended this type of school and contracted Lyme disease from a tick, which they said resulted in meningitis and temporary facial paralysis. That, of course, is a scary bit of info, but the rest of the article shows curious, happy, healthy, totally engaged kids learning about the life cycle of toads and creating little painted mushrooms to lean against the trunk of a tree in a nook formed from its roots. They wear clothing appropriate for the weather–the kids were shown wearing winter coats, knit caps, boots and snow pants–and they were very muddy.I showed the article to two of the kids, and we all agreed that we need to get over to the nearby park.There won’t be any stingrays or gulls. No shells or hermit crabs.But it has a creek. Trees. Fungi growing on stumps.Midwestern stuff.All these things should make for a fascinating outing; a few hours of “No Child Left Inside.” So I hope we can make it happen today or tomorrow. We’ll dress for the weather, and I’ll take along a camera, identification books, towels…and bug spray.