Here in the US, this past week was National Wildlife Week. This observance was started by the National Wildlife Federation in 1938 as National Wildlife Restoration Week. From its early roots to the present, the focus has always been to maintain relationship with the natural world to encourage protection of the lands and species. What has changed over time is the amount of time that people spend outside. While I couldn’t find concrete statistics about the amount of time children historically spent outside, the current data that the National Wildlife Foundation is using on its site state that the average child spends about 7 hours in front of TVs and computers and about 4 minutes outside each day.

This year’s theme is Get Wild Child. But how do you get wild in a controlled environment. And how do parents let go of their fear that something bad might happen to their child. Once, some time ago, I saw a map that showed the difference between free roaming territory of our grandparents compared to today’s children and the difference is from about 5 mile radius for our grandfathers, if I recall correctly, and the driveway for today’s children.  As I was doing my search, trying (unsuccessfully) to find that map, I came across a couple of blogs that talk about the fact that the reason that things are safer for today’s kids is that we protect them more and that this is a good thing. I have to wonder, is it? And if so, at what cost? As a teacher of 9th graders, I deal with more attitude from them and less imagination. While I will be the first to agree that schools kill a lot of creativity, when I ask for it, I can’t get it.

I have a lot of wild children in my classroom, but not many Wild Children.

So, how can you get children to be Wild, in a good way, without losing your mind over what they are up to and how safe they are?

Start small. Any beginning is a beginning and a beginning is 90% of the goal. Here are some ideas I have seen:

  • Let her make a trip to the local convenience store or around the block, on foot or by bike. (walk with her, if you must, and get a little wild yourself)
  • Let him ride his bike, out of sight, to school every day and ask for a nature report of what he saw on the way to and from when he gets home.
  • Let her go with her friends to the park to play someday, when you are not there. Find support and comfort with other parents who are learning to let go.
  • Turn off the TV and stop watching alarmist news programs.
  • Remind yourself that most children who are harmed (less than 1% of all children) are harmed by someone they know well enough to trust.
  • Let the kids build their own fort.
  • Let them climb the trees in their back yard.
  • Remind yourself that you survived, and grew from, every scraped knee and sprained ankle.
  • Most of all, give your kids time and space to risk, make mistakes. This is how we learn and grow.
  • Go to Get Wild Child and try some of the National Wildlife Foundations activities.

Over on the Children and Nature Network’s Connect forum, Richard Louv has a discussion about what we can do to help parents deal with the fear of letting go and the fear of being a “bad parent” for letting their kids have the freedoms that we had and took for granted. We are still looking for ideas.

What would you do?