Children are fabulous little creatures, but caring for them can be expensive. Daycare is a major financial outlay and, according to The Atlantic, can cost anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of the median married couple’s income in the United States. The cost of daycare has been climbing since the 1980s, but money isn’t transferring to professional childcare workers, whose pay has stagnated in recent years and who “actually make less today, in real terms, than they did in 1990.” So where’s the money going? State regulations have tightened over past decades. For example, some daycares must have 25 square feet of space per child, which means downsizing is impossible when rent goes up. Child-teacher ratios also vary, which affects cost.
While ensuring children’s safety and wellbeing at all times is absolutely necessary, I think it’s unfortunate that we North Americans are so bound to indoor spaces and the countless costs associated with them. Imagine if we took a lesson from the popular “forest kindergartens” of Scandinavia and northern Europe, where toddlers and preschool-aged kids spend all day outdoors, learning that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” If daycares shifted their focus to parks and playgrounds in urban settings, and forests in rural areas, there would no longer be such a pressing need to pay for an indoor space; childcare workers could be paid better wages; and kids wouldn’t suffer from what Richard Louv has termed “nature deficit disorder” in his fascinating book “Last Child in the Woods.”
I realize it sounds very idealistic, and such a system would be difficult to implement, especially in an urban setting, but what better way to raise a generation of nature-loving children? Reversing the current trend of minimizing and/or mediating (often fearfully) our children’s interactions with nature could help the future of environmentalism greatly, while reducing resources spent on a physical building, ensuring exercise and improving all-round health for kids, and freeing up money for excellent outdoor-based learning.