Nature ConnectionWild ChildWild Spirit

Wild and Free: Childhoods that foster life skills

By February 3, 2015 5 Comments

I want to give my kids a re-creation of my childhood.

Growing up in the 1980s in the midst of the San Juan Mountains, these were the things I had to worry about: sunburn, bears, blisters, splinters, and frostbite. (Maybe a horse bite and a bike flat on occasion.)

When I think about the life I had as a child, the only “technology” I can remember being in our home was our Atari, a record player on which my mother incessantly played Sandi Patty records, and a humidifier the size of a small country that smelled like an irrigation ditch sitting in the corner of the living room.

There were no such things as apps, tablets, or interactive ANYTHINGS, not to mention a glorious lack of crime, pollution, and noise out where I lived. Going outside didn’t mean taking an iPad out to sit in a lounge chair, it meant stepping into a vast forest teeming with life and caves and streams and unending dangers and discoveries…. and not coming back until we were hungry or injured. Bike helmets were non-existent, cartoons were reserved for Saturday mornings, and if we got bored in the car, we were given a travel-size Connect Four, a box of animal crackers, and a magnetic Wooly Willy.

And you know what? We were happy! We discovered abandoned cabins in the forest where we imagined we lived in the pioneer days. We carved out massive sledding trails on the hill behind our house with our own brute strength using shovels and tree bark. We dug snow-tunnel mazes across our property complete with a “great room,” where we held serious meetings by flashlight to discuss whether or not our tunnel was structurally sound enough to handle the addition of a skylight. We slid down the outflow of the underground waterfall that we discovered one summer, laughing as we choked on the fresh mountain water and standing up at the bottom completely drenched with water spiders clinging to our hair.

I want my kids to be raised in an environment where adventure abounds: where they’re not glued to a screen of some kind because they’re too busy having real-life adventures and making discoveries of their own in the natural world. I just can’t see that as a bad thing.  In fact, I think engaging with the unknowns and wilds of nature is actually quite necessary for them to thrive and learn how to make their way in the world.  And really,  the more “stuff” we have, the more need to “protect”. (Are my accounts password-protected? Is my computer/TV set to kids mode? Are my kids looking at things they shouldn’t on other kids’ phones? Is their eyesight being affected by too much screen time? Are their bodies and overall health suffering because they’re not active enough? Are they bored out of their ever-loving minds?) You see where this is going? So many times handing these devices off to kids is a way to keep them occupied and distracted so they’re not out doing “dangerous” things. Or, God forbid, getting hurt.  But what if all that screen time is hurting them more?

The culture of childhood has been completely high jacked by technology and structured play. What ever happened to freedom? Isn’t that what childhood is all about? You can’t get sunburned, blistered, splintered, and frostbitten by sitting around glued to an iPad. But my frostbite scars represent some of my fondest memories because they remind me that childhood is meant to be spent exploring, learning, making mistakes, growing from them, taking risks, getting lost, and walking home alone in the dark through the woods because you ventured too far seeking the perfect sun-bleached snail shell to add to your collection.

The lessons I learned as a child while not under directed play are invaluable to me now as an adult. They are lessons that can not be learned in a structured environment and most certainly not from a piece of technology. Nature has given me gifts that have helped me navigate some of the hardest things I’ve ever been through.  Experiences in nature have taught me perseverance, focus, fortitude, balance, independence, survival skills, tenacity, creativity, curiosity, courage, and so much more that has and continues to be essential to living well — I could never even begin to list it all.

Do I own an iPad? Yes. Do I want to protect my kids? Of course! But more than anything, I want to impart a legacy of adventure and curiosity. I want to instill in them a sense of discovery and a fierce love of exploration. I want to bestow upon them a deep connection to the natural world. I want them to learn basic and primitive survival skills. I want them to discover within themselves strengths they never knew they had because they decided to take a risk and try something new. And I want them to know more than anything, that if they escape their childhood without at least a scar or two (or at the very least, one of the original Ataris) then I haven’t done my job.

Photo by Philippe Put, via Flickr/Creative Commons

Author Sarah Mickulesku

Sarah is a mother of two, adventure-seeker, and limit-pusher. She received her BA in Journalism from Metro State University in 2007 and is a published children’s book author (“The Woodchuck That Could Chuck” on Amazon.com). While she’s not homeschooling her kids, she spends most of her time immersed in the forest. She currently lives in Denver.

More posts by Sarah Mickulesku
  • Heidi B.

    Amen 🙂

  • This is awesome. I’m with you 100%. I particularly liked your comments on “getting hurt.” Personally, going through the public school system, this is one of the things that annoyed me most (and continues to annoy me). For some wacky (or, more accurately, legal) reason in this culture we’ve adopted a “safety above all” mentality. ALL potential hazards must me eliminated. All bumps smoothed out. All natural elements flattened into docile right-angles. SCREW THAT. And besides, it’s not even working! As you said, “what if all that screen time is hurting them more?” Our kids need freedom to explore, get hurt, get dirty, have non-structured play time and non-supervised adventure. And, for that matter, so do we.

    • Roger Blythe

      If ya don’t have scars you haven’t lived.

  • Pingback: Nature Links from Around the Net()

  • Pingback: WILD AND FREE: CHILDHOODS THAT FOSTER LIFE SKILLS()