It all started when I watched a YouTube TED talk about Forest Preschool; my daughter was only turning 2 years old then. Now she’s 26 months old to be exact and I’m so excited to share my journey about things I’m learning recently.
I always have this mindset that it is good for Summer (my daughter) to go outside everyday but I don’t really realize how crucial it is until I started reading this book called Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life by Richard Louv.
In the introduction of this book, Louv mentioned about Janet Ady of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who wittily presented an outsized Pharmacy bottle to a crowd of grassroots leaders. Inside was a physician’s “prescription” – appropriate not just for children but also for adults.
The Label read:
VITAMIN N: “N” for nature
DIRECTIONS: Use daily outdoors in nature. Go on a nature walk, watch birds and observe trees. Practice respectful outdoors behaviour in solitude or take with friends and family.
In Louv’s own words, it is a simple treatment for improving physical and mental health, for stimulating learning, creativity, and sense of being fully alive; definitely not a panacea, but an appropriate elixir in the age of nature-deficit disorder.
Whats the content of the bottle?
- Listings of National Wildlife refuges by state
- A guide to animal tracks
- Tips on how to experience nature without damaging it
- Information on planting native vegetation to help restore butterfly migration routes.
What a prescription right? But yeah! I rather get this kind of prescription!
We travel a lot for work and I always think our travels are enough for Summer to be exposed in the outside world but I don’t think that suffice. I believe most of us parents now heard about forest preschool or a school that focuses more on play and nature. Who don’t want that, right? I know by instinct that we all understand that more play and nature are better for our child but not all of us have the access to this kind of preschool or education.
Even though we know deep inside that this is important, not to mention all the growing evidences from researchers around the world, not all of us ACT on it and make sure it is a lifestyle for our little ones.
And so I asked myself: Am I really that busy and exhausted nowadays? Or I am just distracted?
Whatever it is I know I can do something that is for SURE. Nature is not just for the privileged but I believe God created nature for everyone – it is free and it is everywhere and it is up to us if we take advantage of it.
“Want your kid to go to Harvard? Tell ’em to go outside.” ~Richard Louv
Of course as I read I want to see the effect for myself. I tried for a week. What’s the effect of exposing Summer to nature everyday?
The plan in the beginning — everyday we will bring her outside in a nature for at least an hour and I simply called it “nature walk”.
It’s not that I don’t bring her out, I do but it’s not everyday and not consistent. Maybe two times a week (mall doesn’t count) if we are not so busy. Me and my husband had a full-time job with a flexible schedule so it’s not that we have a lot of time. We take turns to take care of our daughter as she don’t go to preschool yet.
One thing that motivates me to embark on this journey is the thought that my daughter has only this period that she’s very moldable and I need to take advantage of this time in her life. I also started to worry how easy for her to be glued to Youtubes and cartoon shows and I started to have a fear about her being not able to sit still and not having fresh air everyday. I don’t want her to be “house-arrested” at a very young age!
So as a start, we taught her the phrase with a familiar nursery rhyme tune and she loves singing it now:
Are you sleeping , are you sleeping daddy (or mommy) chong, daddy (or mommy) chong? Wake up, wake up! Wake up, wake up! Go to nature walk! Go to nature walk!
Now, every morning she will sing this simple rhyme to wake us up!
Here’s what happened on that first week of my little experiment. It is not easy to do it consistently everyday but I’m determined to complete it. We decided that each day we will search for a treasure too in our nature walks.
Day 1: Nature walk to Raffel Park, 5-minutes drive away from home
Oh she loves jumping in the puddles. In this park she saw a lot of birds, snails, picked some wild flowers and played in the swing and slides.
We picked some fallen seeds (big seeds) from a tree as her treasure for the day. I don’t even know the name and we taught her that the birds ate these. She couldn’t stop talking about this the whole day and we decided to paint it.
Day 2: Playground garden in our place
It’s raining heavily in Penang but that didn’t stopped us from our budding tradition — nature walk! For the first time Summer enjoyed the rain. She was so elated and couldn’t stop grinning while we were playing in the rain. She couldn’t be happier that day! I let her use her “bib” which I told her its a rain coat and a hat. Please do not put me to mummy jail as I already realized by now that I need to buy her proper rain coat, a pair of boots and an umbrella. Which I already did, I swear!
Day 3: Just our backyard
I live in a condominium so basically I don’t have a backyard; we decided to go outside and by the roadside and see whatever we can discover from there. And, tada! We’ve seen wild flowers, ants, earthworms, trees, butterflies, barking dogs — all these are part of nature that I believe can help Summer in her development.
So we don’t necessarily need to live in the woods to enjoy nature, we just need to go outside and look what we can find that is available to us. Yes even in the city!!!
Day 4: We discovered a new park, Relau Metropolitan Park
This is my favorite park so far! There’s a big castle playground and I also felt like I’m walking in a “real” forest though its manicured. We saw lots of mushrooms, trees, squirrels, different trees with fruits such as jack fruit, rambutan, kamias, durian, star fruit and guavas. This was the first time Summer sat on a tree that fell down.
We saw a baby banana and picked one; the baby banana was her treasure for the day.
Day 5: It’s a beach day!
We picked shells, chased waves and looked for little crabs. We picked pretty stones as treasure for this day.
Day 6: Pekaka Park in Sungai Dua, just 5-minutes drive from home
Just a normal park with few slides and swings. We managed to find big ants, spiders and doves flying around with cats trying to catch them.
Malaysia has a lot of parks but I realized that not many families use it nowadays. It is always empty when we go even on weekends. I lived in Singapore for 8 years and I’m impressed how many parks are available for kids to play with; but it is the same, few kids playing if not empty.
Day 7: Youth Park in George Town
This was the furthest park we’ve been. About 20-30 minutes away from home but we figured we can come here once in a while. There’s a lot of tall and huge trees, birds, a small waterfall, public swimming pools, lots of monkeys and the playground is awesome. We even watched some boys playing with their skateboards. Summer for the first time learned this sentence: “When Sum Sum’s bigger, I also skate”. She’s too cute!
Summer loves photo-taking!
After one week, I didn’t just realized that it is possible to squeeze in nature walk to our schedule but I also took note of these amazing changes with Summer:
- She’s happier and laugh and smiles more.
- She’s more tired so she naps longer and sleeps faster at night when its time for bed.
- She has more appetite because she’s hungry after walking a lot.
- She drinks more water because the weather in Penang is hot and humid.
- She talks more and converse better and better.
- She stopped asking to watch TV.
- She started to pretend play using nature : stones, leaves, stems as plates , cups and spoon and fork.
I am amazed how a 2 year old can imagine. When they don’t have any toys but they are in nature, they will be resourceful and u believe this is literally helping them to be creative.
Of course I am not 100% sure that nature walks did all these but I believe as her mom nature is a big factor.
- She’s tanner, haha!
- She sweat like crazy!
- Lots of insect bites (sorry, i need stronger insect repellant )!
I honestly learned a lot of things after one week and it gave me more conviction of how I should parent my child. We bought a G.O. Bag (Going Out Bag; we got this idea from the same book) and inside the bag are the following:
- Insect repellent and sunscreen.
- Oat energy bars
- Extra clothes and diapers.
- Many more things that we think we need in case we spontaneously want to go for a nature walk.
- Swimsuit and towels
We permanently leave the bag in the car so we do not need to look for it every time.
I remember as a young kid in a small town I grew up in the Philippines, I did played a lot. It’s a common thing to go outside every morning until noon and go back home for lunch and then nap; after nap is snack time and then play time again. I remember I did the following:
- Climbed trees.
- Picked mangoes on a tree and eat it on the tree itself.
- Played in puddles.
- Walked in the forest while hunting for spiders and putting them in a box of matches.
- Looked for wild guavas and pomelos, as well as mushrooms and made fire to cook it.
- Built house out of hays in the rice fields; walked miles just to taste fresh star apple.
- Went to rivers and dig some small clams that my mom actually cooked for our dinner. Clam soup with ginger is still my favorite!
To verify these info go ask my siblings ***
What I did then was all about playing. I sort of want to replicate that childhood with my child. If I’m not intentional, Summer will go to a routine of morning breakfast, play inside our house, read books, play toys and watch TV. It got to a point that she will whine if we don’t give her TV time or we don’t entertain her with other things.
I told myself: “My daughter should grow up to be a better version of me; if I don’t give her the same good things I got, she will not be.”
At 26 months, Summer can now talk and converse to us in clear simple sentences, sings and dance and pretend play most of the time. I know this in not uncommon but I know it helped that she is out most of the time for the last two months. It’s not easy to take her away from gadgets but it is possible. If you can’t beat gadgets, then you need to run away and go outside where your kids can be distracted by the yellow flowers wildly blooming on the road side, the trees that are dancing in the tune of the wind and barking dogs excited seeing a cute little human being.
I’m grateful that I live in Penang. I am amazed how many places and parks we discovered since we embark into this journey.
I started to read more about this nature thing, went to book stores, ask around what book can I read to help me understand nature and its benefit to my child.
I bring Summer out everyday now, rain or shine. This book below inspired me to not allow anything to stop me from bringing my daughter outside not my schedule, not even the weather. Oh how many times I use weather as an excuse! (of course, not talking about tornadoes and typhoons).
Below are other books that I want to personally recommend. Reading these books are a must. Its so necessary for all of us to be informed and have change of mind about how important nature is in our life. Why? Because the busyness of our lives and with the presence of gadgets and other entertainment can replace nature. It’s so easy to miss the most effective way to parent our kids nowadays.
I will end this post with a quote I got from the book above, “Vitamin N”:
“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.”
― Luther Burbank