With a busy work life and a toddler at home, I don’t have as much time as I’d like for reading. I spend a lot of time in the car though and recently listened to There Is No Such Thing As Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge). I ate up every minute of the book and thought you, KidsGardening’s community of parents and educators would enjoy it as well. So I reached out to the author, Linda Åkeson McGurk with a few questions:
Emily: Do you garden with your kids? As a mother, writer, and now author of an important book on the benefits of getting kids in nature, what role do you think gardening can play in a child's life?
La: I think gardening is a wonderful way to connect children with nature and help them understand where their food comes from, as well as how they fit into the eco system. We also know that there are beneficial microbes in the soil, which can trigger “happiness hormones” in the brain and improve our mood and even help protect against anxiety and depression. This is huge considering that these mental disorders are on the rise among children. My mom is a big gardener, so growing vegetables was a natural part of my childhood. Unfortunately, I haven’t inherited her green thumb, but I try to grow a few things with my kids in our backyard every year. I don’t strive for perfection; I think the most important thing is to get out there with your kids and get your hands dirty together. I try to choose crops that are easy to grow and don’t stress too much when we have a crop failure. There are a lot of things to learn from those too!
Emily: What are your family's favorite outdoor activities in each season? How have these changes over the years?
Linda: When my kids were little my main focus was to make sure they had time for unstructured outdoor play every day. During the week, that typically meant getting outside in the backyard and just doing whatever my kids wanted to do – climb a tree, explore the creek, or play in their “mud kitchen.” This type of free play outdoors offers everything a child needs in the early years and even today, at ages 7 and 10, this is what my kids do outside a majority of the time, all year round. On the weekends, when we have more time, we may go for a hike or bike ride, have a picnic at the park or tend to the garden during the warmer months. In the winter, we enjoy sledding, downhill skiing and hiking. How we recreate outdoors actually hasn’t changed that much, but what has changed is the girls’ mobility. From hiking with one baby in a carrier, I now have two children who are both very mobile by foot, ski and bike, which makes things a lot easier.
Emily: Sometimes kids drag their feet when asked if they want to play outside. In your book you acknowledge that even your girls, who grew up spending time outdoors from a young age will still protest. What advice would you give to parents and educators who feel discouraged by this?
I think the most important thing is to make outdoor play a part of your daily rhythm, so that the kids will come to expect it. I’ve always been pretty firm with my kids that we go outside every day, regardless of the weather, even if it’s just for a little while. I also talk to them a lot about why we do it, and now that they’re older the health aspects are ingrained in them. My advice is to stay positive and not give up - a lot of time the hardest part is just getting out the door. My kids rarely protest anymore, but when they do I can usually convince them by suggesting that we play a game of tag or hide and seek. Kids usually want to be where their parents are, so if we go out with them and show that we’re excited about it, they can usually be won over.
Emily: We know that getting outside is easier for some families and communities than it is for others. Where I live in Vermont, it is very easy. For my friends who live in densely populated cities, it is much more difficult. What are your thoughts on how we address these barriers? What are some small steps teachers and parents can take?
As parents we can only do so much to ensure that our kids get enough outdoor play every day; it has to be a community effort. Many kids spend the majority of their day with other caregivers – for example at daycare or school – so it’s absolutely crucial to get others on board as well. Bringing about change in schools and other institutions won’t be easy, but there are examples of schools where a single passionate teacher or administrator has made a big difference by creating a school garden, a natural play space or an outdoor classroom, or by advocating for more recess or taking the students to the forest once a week. Use these successful cases as a starting point for your own school and see if and how they can be replicated. Creating these types of opportunities for nature connection at school is even more important in bigger cities, where green spaces can be few and far between. I also think we need to rethink nearby nature, and by that, I mean that we should do a better job of utilizing all the little pockets of wild spaces that can be found in cities as well. Kids don’t need manicured parks to have a good time outside, they just need places where they can run wild.
Linda Åkeson McGurk is a journalist and author of the parenting memoir There Is No Such Thing As Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge). She believes that the best childhood memories are created outside, while jumping in puddles, digging in dirt, catching bugs and climbing trees. McGurk blogs about connecting between children and nature at Rain or Shine Mamma, and hopes to inspire other parents and caregivers to get outside with their children every day, regardless of the weather. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter.