why I let my baby hang out by the pond

I love this article SO much I’m going to propagandize it here:

On the Wildness of Children by Carol Black:

“When we first take children from the world and put them in an institution, they cry. It used to be on the first day of kindergarten, but now it’s at an ever earlier age, sometimes when they are only a few weeks old. “Don’t worry,” the nice teacher says sweetly, “As soon as you’re gone she’ll be fine. It won’t take more than a few days. She’ll adjust.” And she does. She adjusts to an indoor world of cinderblock and plastic, of fluorescent light and half-closed blinds … Some children grieve longer than others, gazing through the slats of the blinds at the bright world outside; some resist longer than others, tuning out the nice teacher, thwarting her when they can, refusing to sit still when she tells them to (this resistance, we are told, is a “disorder.”)

But gradually, over the many years of confinement, they adjust. The cinderblock world becomes their world. They don’t know the names of the trees outside the classroom window. They don’t know the names of the birds in the trees. They don’t know if the moon is waxing or waning, if that berry is edible or poisonous, if that song is for mating or warning. It is in this context that today’s utopian crusader proposes to teach “eco-literacy.”

It’s summer and time to let my daughter out into the world. She is three now, and at this toddler-turned-preschool age, it’s time to give her a wider berth. She can keep her head out of the water, she can run and tell me when something is wrong, and most importantly, she trusts her own instincts. Out in the country, so long as she stays away from the busy main road (quite a ways away, we live off a small, private dirt lane), she needs to run as free as she possibly can. And this article neatly sums up the reason I feel this way.

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Yesterday it was sunny and warm, and my daughter ran about in her bathing suit (bottoms, anyway) splashing in the icy lake water, finding bugs, spending hours searching the pond’s perimeter for frogs and turtles with a ratty net slung over her shoulder. She looks proud and strong, like a mini- Athena with her hunting bow resting on her shoulder. It’s never been more obvious where she belongs- in the wild, dirt-splattered and free.

What’s sad is that I can’t teach her much about her element. It was schooled out of me systematically. I can navigate the waters of the education system, getting all As, passing standardized tests, bullshitting essays and sucking up to teachers. I can earn a degree and pass an interview. I can clock in and do my prescribed duties and clock out. I’m just a diligent little soldier in the system. So the best I can do for my daughter is roll up my own pant legs and let her lead the way.

But the truth is we don’t know how to teach our children about nature because we ourselves were raised in the cinderblock world.  We are, in the parlance of wildlife rehabilitators, unreleasable. I used to do wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, and the one thing we all knew was that a young animal kept too long in a cage would not be able to survive in the wild.  Often, when you open the door to the cage, it will be afraid to go out; if it does go out, it won’t know what to do.  The world has become unfamiliar, an alien place. This is what we have done to our children.

This is what was done to us.

Now go read the rest of the article!

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Categories: education, lifestyle, parenting

6 Comments »

  1. I was homeschooled so I can understand the reasons why you are wanting more for your daughter than to be in a classroom 8 hours a day. I also understand why many parents choose to/have to send their children to school. I know that sometimes that is best for the child and the family. But I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for anything. The unbridled freedom and exploring…. we lived on 12 acres, part of which was wooded. I spent all day, every day outside. I learned from text-books but mostly I learned hands-on. My love of reading opened my horizons even further as I explored the world through books. We didn’t have TV aside from videos from the library occasionally. We also had no gaming systems. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. Good enough that I hope to recreate parts of that life for my children. Combined with more socialization than I had.

    • Thanks for sharing! Interesting about the socialization… Did you wish for more playmates? I also hope that I can provide the opportunities for my daughter to have playmates most of the time, but unfortunately they will mostly be spirited away to institutionalized school by the time she’s five. I don’t consider the type of interactions that occur in school rooms, with age separation, grading systems, and other pressures, a natural or beneficial form of socializing. It’s too bad she won’t have the neighborhood kids to cruise the block with every evening as we are so rural.

      • So, I grew up in the middle of nowhere and we didn’t hang out with friends a ton. I was fortunate in that I had 9 siblings so I had built in playmates. But I did wish I could hang out with my friends more. When I was really young and then again when I was older, my mom joined some homeschool groups and that was really nice! But the gap in between was a bit lonely. But honestly, I never wanted to go to school really. I would get terrified when my mom would threaten to send me if I didn’t want to do my homework. 😉 But yeah, I’d like to have my kids in some homeschool groups.

  2. We lived on 16 acres for almost a year, and it was awesome for my older two. They were at the creek or the pond or back in the trees all the time, finding every kind of creature. They had plant guides and bird guides and endless fun.

    My toddler didn’t get as much freedom, but overall it was a great experience for her too. I would’ve been happy staying there full time and for the foreseeable future, but my kids were definitely craving more time with kids closer to their ages. (They’ve always been homeschooled.) Which had nothing to do with why we moved, but everything to do with joining 4H.

    Around that time I started reading the blog Homeschoolers Anonymous – it’s by and for formerly homeschooled children, and in particular those who were homeschooled abusively, in a number of ways. I still believe in homeschooling for a number of reasons, this isn’t intended to dissuade you in any way.

    I wasn’t being what anyone would call abusive to my kids, but reading about how many of these kids – even those whose parents had the best of intentions – struggled as young adults to adjust to the culture at large did impact some of my beliefs, and definitely brought about change in how we do things in terms of being out in the world and creating more connections for them.

    I think the HA blog can be a great resource for families who homeschool, even though they do tend to throw out babies with bathwater.

    • Thanks for the resource! I think this is an excellent point and a huge reason that I believe “world schooling” is a more optimal form of un- or homeschooling. We all need community and culture and varied social interactions to be whole. In fact, as a true believer in radical unschooling, that is precisely why I send my daughter to Montessori preschool! Isolation is and can be as unhealthy as our authoritarian bully type of institutionalized school systems. Too bad that we cannot seem to find the right balance, at least in western culture.

  3. I totally agree with you (and on your view of socialization, too). We’ve found some great groups that are a mix of all ages and kinds of homeschooling, but we live in the South and it’s hard to find the wider variety we’d love to have, here, at least as homeschoolers. We’ll be moving this year, and I’m really looking forward to new connections and community for the us all, while being so grateful that email and social media will allow us to stay in touch with the friends we’ve made here.

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