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Children and Parents

Children and Nature: A Booklist for Parenting

A Country Called Childhood

When you reminisce about your childhood, is it filled with summertime freedom to traverse the neighborhood without your parents always watching? In the book, A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World, Jay Griffiths explores the relationship between children and nature, and the need for wildness in play for the mind to wonder, for independence and confidence to be built, and for an understanding of the earth to be had. She writes, “The riddle of this book is that of a child’s human nature, which includes a sense of quest, the need for identity and the demand to honour the ludic principle—the principle of play. It is about how that human nature is nested in nature which co-creates the child” (p. 7).

Her passion for the subject is supported through the practices of indigenous cultures, mythology tales, and modern day cultural studies. The independent child in nature is a theme that was exploited by the Romantics and embraced readily in literature ever since, from The Secret Garden, to the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Peter Pan. The union between animals and children has been savored since the Romulus and Remus creation myth, celebrated by Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book, and beautifully portrayed in the film The Fox and the Child.

The Fox and The Child

Education has had movements to embrace the hands on approach to nature through school gardens and forest schools, while free-range parenting and parents arrested for letting kids play outside alone has garnered a great deal of media coverage recently. Griffiths writes, “Naturally kindled in green, they need nature, woodlands, mountains, rivers and seas both physically and emotionally, no matter how small a patch; children’s spirits can survive on very little, but not on nothing. Yet woodlands are privatized; children are scared away from the outdoor world by alleged stranger-danger so the toy and entertainment industries benefit from that enclosure, while the streets—the commons of the urban child—have been closed off to them” (p. 342).

Other recent titles to explore that take on the theme of children and nature:

how to raise a wild child

How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott D. Sampson. The paleontologist featured in Dinosaur Train wants to help you get your kids back to nature.


the truth about nature

The Truth About Nature: A Family’s Guide to 144 Common Myths About the Great Outdoors by Stacy Tornio. Get the facts on animals, plants, and lucky charms.


last child in the woods

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. Discusses how technology, media exploitations, increasing homework, and traffic and stranger fears have children suffering from a nature-deficit disorder.


home grown

Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World by Ben Hewitt. A personal story of how Hewitt and his wife homeschooled their kids on the family’s northern Vermont farm to be in touch with nature.


free to learn

Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray. A psychological look at the need for children to have free play.


make it wild

Make it Wild! 101 Things to Make and Do Outdoors by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks. From snow sculpting to making fire balloons, there are some really neat projects to do in this book.


What are your favorite representations of children communing with and enjoying nature or expressing their independent spirit?


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