Read Along with Me: Last Child in the Woods

Okay, I finally decided to start reading “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. So many have asked me if I had read it, that I was starting to feel embarrassed. I felt like one of those presenters who is in front of a large crowd and a hand shoots up and says, “But have you read the most seminal piece in parenting this day?” Ahhh…..

Fine. I’ll read it.

And you can journey along with me.

I completely agree with the premise. Today’s kids have become more and more distant from nature and that is having serious consequences on their health, creativity and development. It is also having an impact on the environment. I’m just not sure I need 300+ pages to tell me all that, since I am now also a product of the internet age and want my information concise and quick.

But I’m going to slug through the book and see what I learn, having started on page one in the middle of the night while waiting for the emergency medicine vet to evaluate my dog’s chocolate toxicity level. Apparently the scent of delectable dark chocolate nonpareils was more than her four paws and sharp canines could resist.

One paragraph that caught my attention was Richard Louv’s description of how much our society uses technology within our cars now. No longer do kids observe endless fields and mindless telephone poles whipping by their peripheral vision. Instead they are plugged into a device and miss out on observations of nature and changing landscapes, thus missing opportunities to understand the expanse of the world and the connection countryside and cityscapes.

“We actually looked out the car window. In our useful boredom, we used our fingers to draw pictures on fogged glass as we watched telephone poles tick by. We saw birds on the wires and combines in the fields. We were fascinated with roadkill, and we counted cows and horses and coyotes and shaving-cream signs. We stared with a kind of reverence at the horizon, as thunderheads and dancing rain moved with us.” (pgs 63-64)

Okay. He got me there. I have long patted my shoulder for keeping all electronics off in the car while we travel around “town,” but whenever we started a road trip that would last longer than an hour, the boys knew that devices were now “allowed.”  I’ve been doing it backwards!

But here’s my argument; that is to say, here’s what I do to convince myself my decision is of course the right one. I’m a single parent driving three bouncy, noisy, crazy boys six hours to get to the beach. There’s only so much a mom can handle before she becomes too much of a distracted driver and things get unsafe. I can’t juggle the arguments about who won the counting cows contest, who is touching whom, who stole whose pillow. So if they’re going to “plug in” and leave me to my inner introvert thoughts for a bit, I’m just going to go with it. We will all arrive safer and saner this way.

As a compromise, we have developed a routine of turning off all electronics about forty-five minutes out from our destination so we can see the landscape change and start to smell the salt air. It’s a moment to bond with each other in excitement and in connecting with nature. We spend the next week feeling and talking about the power of waves and the pull of the tide. We stumble over sharp shells and curl our toes into the sand. We explore the rough, heavy wet sand which shapes into castles with the fine silky hot sand that floats in the wind as you let it spill from your fingers. It’s a whole week of being unplugged which the boys still relish at the ages of 11, 8 and 6.  I’m hoping we get a few more golden years of spending a week at the beach.

And after starting to read this book, I have tried to be more intentional about pointing out “nature” a bit more as we drive around town and through the city parks. I throw in small comments about the shape of the clouds, the color of the sunset, the shade offered by the trees, the grass along the side of the road. This pacifies my guilt a bit, but I still wrestle with wanting my kids to be more comfortable in the natural world and to connect more with it.

So I’ll keep reading (though I confess that I’m more drawn to “Before I Wake” by Dee Henderson which I’m also currently reading!).

 

Advertisements

What? You’re not listening?

I love books. Absolutely. No questions asked. Give me a good book that I can sink into and I’ll mourn the loss of my new friends at the end of it. I laugh. I cry. And I’m just talking about kids’ books here.

More than anything, I want to instill this love into my children. I’ve done everything I can. My house is cluttered with books – look around and you’ll see bookcases and bookcases booksof books. At any given moment you’re likely to stub your toe on a book on the floor (after you gingerly step over the recently fired Nerf gun bullet and landed on the sharp edge of a Lego, that is!). I treasure the “favorite” books (list below). I gift the boys a new book for their birthday and for Christmas with sweet love messages written on the inside cover. I read to them every single (almost) night. I even recorded every book I read to Super Tall Guy throughout a whole year once. (Mr. Ornery – I started, but I definitely read less to him. And Poor Little Guy….well, they read a lot at the day care center!)

But I am waging a battle against the lure of a flat screen and the opinion that the “movie” version is the way it’s “supposed to be.” I can’t seem to get across the concept that an author actually sat down and WROTE the book first with the complete intent that the reader should create in their own heads what the characters actually looked like and what really happened.

I know that Super Tall Guy could care less about “reading the book first” before watching a movie. I thought it endearing when we would get to below 50 or so pages of a Harry Potter book and he would bring it to me in bright daylight and ask me to read so we could finish the book! And of course, his motivation was to get to see the movie on the weekend, knowing that I’d put it off until the following “movie night” time if we didn’t get that book done in time. I thought we at least had something great going.

Until tonight when he completely deflated me. We are reading “Fish in a Tree” (even though there’s no movie to dangle at the end) and every once in a while I like to stop and ask a question, partly to check on his level of alertness (ie, “is he asleep yet?” though the snoring should tell me!) and partly to bring home a good point that may have been made. Tonight when I stopped and turned to ask a question, he said, “Mom, I never actually listen to what you’re reading. I just like to hear you talk.”

“What?!?” I said, “You’re not listening?!? Since when?”

He replied, “Since you started reading Harry Potter” (like over a year ago!) “I just wanted to get to the end to watch the movie. That’s why I play while you’re reading. I’m not really paying attention.”

I laughed and playfully punched him. But also felt a bit sad. I thought in my head, well, I could just read my own books aloud if all he wants is the drone of my voice as white noise to fall asleep by. I might just try reading my Internal Medicine Board Review book aloud tomorrow night!

But I shall persist. Because somehow and in some way, I’m determined to make a reader out of these boys. To bury within them the love of pages. To develop a deep yearning for learning through stories of others’ lives and the printed word. To help them know the comfort of snuggling under covers with a good book in hand. To set them on adventures in new worlds and with different people. To live. To learn. To grow.

Well, we certainly aren’t getting in the recommended “20 minutes” of reading every night and Mr. Ornery struggles to read fluently, and Super Tall Guy clearly isn’t listening, but I shall battle on!

Here are some of the books we’ve loved:

Preschool:

  • Goodnight Gorilla
  • Goodnight Moon
  • Where’s Spot
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • Five Little Monkeys

5-7:

  • Library Lion – absolutely love – almost cry every time
  • I Need My Monster – have read too many times!
  • Tony Baloney Buddy Trouble
  • Fly Guy – any of them
  • Robert Munsch – any of his!

8-9 (that’s as far as we are):

  • Harry Potter
  • Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Super Tall Guy probably stopped listening to me when we started this as our first “longer” chapter books)
  • Holes
  • I Survived …. Series
  • Magic Tree House…. – read many of these

 

 

 

 

Parenting Boys (and girls) 102: Starting School

Dear Mr/Mrs Teacher,

I truly expected to get this year off to a more organized start. Apparently not (and apparently I forgot to read last year’s post about how I was most certainly going to be better this year!).  Despite how it might appear, I want you to know that I highly value education for my child. After all, I am personally a “highly educated” individual with a BS in elementary education (no less) and a MS degree and a PhD and even an MD degree. Yet, despite all those initials trailing my name, I am unable to remember to check the homework folder on a daily basis. It’s a character flaw.

In the spirit of true confessions, I’m sorry to say that I have also not yet cut apart those addition and subtraction “flashcards” to begin practicing. I’m pretty sure that someday that card stock paper and a pair of scissors will be in the same vicinity and I’ll get to it. It just hasn’t been today or yesterday or the day before….

Also, we read for about 10 minutes every night (I mean, most nights, well, I mean on those nights that I’m not already falling asleep reading to the other brothers) and as it always feels like 20 minutes, I’m hoping that counts for our “daily” reading time.

I would also like some clarification of the terms “homework” and “please practice” that you clearly have ink stamps to use on their papers. “Homework,” I take it, is something that you definitely expect to be completed and returned the next day…in the ideal world. On the other hand, the “please practice” pages are something that can go into the ‘papers that I intend to deal with at some later point that is not tonight because the kid is already asleep‘ stack. Is that accurate?

In the same vein, is it okay to skip the night’s homework assignment if the 6-year-oldcrumpled is in the “I-will-crush-and-crumble-all-paper-in-my-sight” kind of mood? I doubt the morning will be any better, but I’ll try to get him reading Nan the Cat as soon as possible!

Just a couple more questions. When my son is on the list for “Star Student of the Week” for January 11th, is that something you expect me to keep track of or will you be providing some kind of reminder system post holiday chaos so that the poor guy isn’t identified as having “Loser Mother of the Year” for the week?

Also, I hope that you got the “mystery student” paper bag with 5 tiny objects that are somehow reflective of my son that I dropped off around lunch time on the day it was due? Maybe you might have given him a chance to show his bag that afternoon so he wouldn’t feel left out. (Oh, I guess that would defeat the purpose of guessing who it belonged to. Huh, just thought of that. Nevermind. On the other hand, will we get that bag back soon? We could use the hockey puck this weekend and I’m worried the crab leg to signify having been to the beach might increase in stench intensity soon. Just wondering.)

And finally, that Class Dojo app that now beeps incessantly on my smartphone dojo to inform me that the kiddo has yet again received a “ -1 for talking to neighbors” – will you be continuing that all year or is this just a first-month fad that we’re all going to get tired of PDQ? (My gram liked to use that for Pretty Darn Quick. I’m thinking Positively Definitely Quitting!).

I think that sums up my apologies and questions for now, day 10 of the new school year. It’s likely some continuing confusion might linger, but once I get the house unpacked and the kids’ sports schedules imprinted, we should start on a better trajectory.

Thank you for your patience and even more importantly, thank you for loving “education” so much that you passionately teach at least 20 energetic kids every day and gracefully cope with many more quirky parents. It’s a challenging job and a huge responsibility and I’m thankful that you are there to give my kid a hug when he needs it, a pat on the back when deserved, and a push in the right direction when necessary.

Please let me know if I can help in any way (other than the obvious stuff that I clearly should be doing and haven’t yet).

Yours gratefully,

Mom