The Last Child in the Woods?
I'm lucky- as a natural resources professional for the good part of the past ten years- I've never really been confined to trails. Yeah, sure, when I visit our local Metroparks with my family, I've got to stay on the trails, or do I?
Responding the the rising sentiment laid out in Richard Louv's "The Last Child in the Woods", in which he argues today's children suffer from a nature deficit disorder, the Columbus Metroparks have created what they call natural play areas. At least ten acres in size, these areas are designated places where children and their families can go off trail, climb trees, look for bugs, to play in streams, and pick up sticks (please note that Weston is firmly holding onto a stick in each of the photos I have posted here).
We felt Weston, now 17 months, might finally be ready to explore an area like this. Megan and I drove him to the Highbanks Metropark natural play area this past Saturday, and with a little guidance, let him explore the area.
"Play in a Stream, Climb Trees and Rocks, Look for Bugs and Worms"
Weston loved it- and we came slightly unprepared. But those white New Balances won't fit in a month, so we let him get them all wet. At one point he went marching into the Olentangy.
Towards the end of our visit, and after I had pointed out poison ivy and several patches of itch inducing wood nettle, Megan told me she wouldn't feel comfortable bringing Weston here by herself- she would worry about him getting poison ivy or nettle stings. It really brought home the point- today's parents are just afraid to let their kids play in the woods, fearing horrible insect bites, ticks, West Nile Virus, rashes, broken bones, abductions, and just about anything bad we can possibly think of.
I grew up on the outskirts of a suburb of Akron, but we were lucky to have a piece of city owned land behind our house that was slated to be a developed park, but to this day remains a natural area. It was my natural playground, and it was in my backyard. The house that Weston now claims as his own is surrounded by grassy yards. Since I want to give Weston the opportunity to love the natural world, I'm excited about these natural play areas- hopefully other parents will find these places as well- I hope Weston won't be the last child in the woods.