A new book from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK aims to get more families outside in nature (and thus later to have an interest in the protection of the environment). As David Sobel has written, “If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.” Kids likely won’t grow up to be environmentally-minded adults if they didn’t have a childhood full of nature experiences.
Hattie Garlick, Born To Be Wild: Hundred of Free Nature Activities for Families (London/New York: Bloomsbury, 2016), 256 pp. US $22.00. Photographs by Nancy Honey.
Publisher’s description Want to save cash, your child’s imagination, and possibly even the planet? This is the book you need. Packed with great photos of real families in the outdoors, Born to Be Wild contains easy-to-follow instructions for activities that require nothing more sophisticated than a child’s imagination and access to a little outdoor space. Organized by season and then by material, it lets parents skip straight to Spring, and then to “Blossom,” “Grass,” or “Earth,” according to their present need. Everything you need to engage in all of its hundreds of activities can be found in your kitchen. No expensive art supplies or outward-bound kit required. All you need is the “Toolkit” listed at the front of the book. These ordinary household essentials include recycled food containers, scraps of paper, string, glue, and an empty jar or two. Along the way, Hattie Garlick talks to families, organizations, cultures, and communities who have rebuilt their relationships with nature–with inspiring results–and introduces scientists, psychologists, and other experts who explain why nature matters in our children’s modern lives.
While the many various activities included in this book make it a great one to have on your shelf, it’s for some of the extra content that I enjoy Born To Be Wild and I think other parents would appreciate. The author shares her “Ten Tips for Turfing Your Kids Out of the House (Happily)” – turf: British for “force (someone) to leave somewhere.” She includes positive and negative statistics (from research in the UK) about being connected to nature, what she refers to as the “science bit” to possibly help convince those not quite sure of the benefits of nature for child development. Also, some common sense guidelines for playing in nature are given. The book’s nature activities are then organized by season, and then further organized by the type of nature material/locale one could utilize for play, such as Grass, Rivers, Streams and Ponds, and Insects for Spring; Flowers, Sand and Shells, and Trees for Summer; Autumn Leaves, Mud, and Wind for Autumn; and Evergreens, Night, and Puddles and Rain for Winter. Throughout are “Facts to fire the imagination” sections that detail natural history facts relevant to the activity being described, such as learning, in the Mud section, that “muddy play might actually boost your mood due to microscopic bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae, which increase the level of serotonin in our brains, helping us to relax.” Or, in the section on Trees, being informed that aspirin today contains salicylic acid, extracted from the bark of willows; and that “Ancient Greek physicians used willow to treat fever, earache, gout, dandruff, and gas.” Learning a little science and history while planning an outdoor activity for your kids is great (says this history of science buff).
But the facts and advice from Garlick extend through the whole book, as do the many wonderful photographs of kids at play by Nancy Honey. Born To Be Wild is a treasure-trove of an activity guide, natural history lesson, call for parent involvement in getting their kids outside, and overall appreciation for what connecting to nature means. I’ll enjoy having this book on our shelf; I hope you’ll consider getting a copy, too!