Written by one of my favorite bloggers, this new book will inspire and guide readers to instill a love for nature in their children.
"There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." This phrase hails from Scandinavia, where it's a common mantra repeated by parents who insist that their children spend time outdoors every day. Sadly, it's the opposite in the United States, where the slightest sign of inclement weather is an excuse to stay inside and even good weather fails to lure children out to play.
This stark difference in parental attitudes came as a shock to Linda Åkeson McGurk, a Swedish woman who married an American and moved to Indiana to start a family. Quickly she realized that the nature-centric parenting philosophies she'd taken for granted as a kid in Sweden were not the norm in the U.S. and that many factors, from the emphasis on standardized tests to overly-packed schedules to ubiquitous smartphones to lack of playmates, conspired to make getting outside a real challenge.
McGurk refused to give in to the American way of doing things and fought daily to make the outdoors a regular part of her daughters' life. Several years ago she started a wonderful blog called Rain or Shine Mamma (which has inspired many a post on TreeHugger), and has now published a book, titled There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge).
In the book, McGurk documents her parenting journey, which starts in Indiana but then moves overseas to Sweden, when she takes her girls for a six-month stay. There, she's immersed in a child-raising approach that's both familiar, from her own childhood, and foreign, after 15 years of living on American soil. But it doesn't take long for both of her daughters to flourish in their Swedish school settings, where time spent in nature and 'free-range'-type independence are top priorities.
The book is not all personal anecdote. It is chock-full of the latest research on the importance of outdoor play and the ability of nature to foster child development all around -- academically, emotionally, physically. For example, McGurk writes about the value of dirt in boosting children's health and combating the high rates of asthma and allergies that now affect 40 percent of U.S. kids. I was intrigued by the mention of Mycobacterium vaccae, a microbe found in soil that has the ability to "trigger our serotonin production, effectively making us happier and more relaxed."
She talks about the importance of outdoor free play to develop crucial physical skills. Kids spend so much time indoors these days that they fail to build strength in the most basic of ways, like holding a pencil or being able to lift with their upper bodies.
Letting kids move freely outdoors makes them better at assessing risk. They learn that the world isn't eternally cushioned for every fall, which in turn builds the grit and resilience known to be key to professional success. In Sweden, the parental attitude is one of "freedom with responsibility," where kids are expected to learn boundaries, but as they demonstrate maturity, those boundaries expand.
The book is a great read that I devoured in a weekend and it has been on my mind ever since. What particularly resonated was McGurk's point that we have limited years of influence on our children. She writes of her oldest daughter, Maya:
"Somewhere deep inside I felt a gnawing urge that now was the tie to cement her love for nature, nurture her sense of outdoor adventure, and help her to form memories that would last a lifetime."
If you have any regular interaction with children, then please read this book. Allow it to be your guide to another way of doing things, where nature is used as a wholesome tool to entertain, teach, calm, and delight children. The book has certainly affected me. I'm now looking into a local forest school for my kids to attend once a week and planning to buy a year-long membership to a local provincial park for more frequent hiking and camping.
Together, we can change the parenting narrative within the U.S. and Canada, where I live. We can challenge the fear-based approach that is driving parents to hold onto their children far too tightly and prevent them from growing in healthy ways. McGurk's book can play a major role in helping this to happen.
There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather (Touchstone, 2017), $15 on Amazon