Have you heard about “forest kindergartens”? I hadn’t until this week. Apparently it’s a thing in several (mostly European) countries where kids—middle class, normal kids—spend basically all day every day outside. In a forest. No plastic toys and safety-certified play parks to be seen. Summer and winter.
(If you’re wondering, they actually do measurably better than their more traditionally pre-K’d peers in areas like reading readiness, social interactions, and paying attention. To add insult to injury, they’re also LESS likely to hurt themselves while playing).
It’s facts like this that intrigue me about the international parenting books I keep reading. Parenting without Borders is my new favorite in the genre. It’s the broadest and the most balanced, the author making a point of mentioning the things that don’t work well in other countries as well as the many things that do (she also has good things to say about certain aspects of American parenting, so there’s that too).
I’m not exactly ready to camp out in the woods behind our house every day, but it’s an interesting counterpoint to another, slightly terrifying, fact: that the average American kid now spends only 4-15 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly who those kids are, because they’re not the kids of anybody I know in real life. But either way, it gives me food for thought as I experiment with various daily schedules for life with a toddler… and eventually two.
I do strongly believe in living life at a slower pace. We’re busy in the sense that we’re highly focused on the one or three things we’re trying to do in life these days, but we’re remarkably unbusy in the committed activity department. We do go to church once a week (usually). We… actually, that’s it for the solid commitments. We share a car, and I usually only have it one or maybe two days a week—or none if Iris is teething a lot and the weather’s bad. A lot of evenings after dinner we’ll walk to the park or drive to downtown Plymouth and get ice cream or just walk around so Iris can get all excited about the dogs and babies everywhere. Sometimes we do yard work. And after Iris is in bed, I usually write or we watch something together or chat. But none of those are commitments. We do whatever we feel up to doing.
Slower living seems like a good thing for us—Iris certainly does better with short bursts of activity followed by long hours of home play, and as long as I get out enough to maintain a few friendships and a sense of the normal it works well for me too.
Making a priority of daily outside play also seems like a good thing.
Having a covered back porch helps, of course. We’ve had rain almost every day this week, but it doesn’t stop us from enjoying being outside. Honestly, it’s pretty relaxing to sit there reading while the rain pours down and Iris runs around sticking her plastic bucket under various drain spouts to catch the water. It’s fun to see her figuring it all out too. At first she just ran out into the yard like normal, only to be startled and offended by the invisible thing SPLASHING HER. It didn’t take long for her to figure out the boundaries of the porch roof, but it did take her a while to learn that the rain falls on her no matter how she tries to go out in it. At first she thought that if I would just carry her she wouldn’t get wet, but that was a no go (to her surprise, judging by her disappointed look). Today she was pretty sure that if I would just take her in the stroller, the rain wouldn’t be a problem.
And I’m still not sure if she understands that the rain that washes the spider out in one of her favorite songs is like the rain that makes the puddles she enjoys so much. But it’s fun to talk to her about it and watch her trying to make sense of things.
We’re having a good time, anyway.