Recently I have been re-reading one of my favourite parenting books:
“Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children”, By Angela J. Hanscom
This book was the spark that ignited my passion for nature play.
This book is one of the reasons why I decided to start blogging.
This book is the book that I rave about to any poor unsuspecting soul who starts talking with me about nature play!
I stumbled across this book at the public library early last year, and SO much of it resonated with what I believe in… so much so that I had to go and buy my own copy, because I wanted to highlight almost every sentence! It has everything that I am passionate about at the moment; childhood development, nature play, free play, and occupational therapy.
This book grabbed my attention and I couldn’t stop talking about the content with anyone and everyone who would listen.
About the Author:
Hanscom is a paediatric occupational therapist based in the United States. She is the founder of TimberNook, an award-winning nature-based childhood development programme.
Hanscom developed TimberNook after working in schools alongside an increasing number of children who were experiencing developmental delays.
She saw that today’s children weren’t engaging in as much outdoors play as much as previous generations had been, and she was seeing the result of this in the work she was doing as an OT in classrooms.
She was seeing that children are weaker, less confident, more fidgety, and she was also seeing an increase in sensory issues.
The Facts That Grabbed Me:
In the first chapter of the book, Hanscom writes about some of the issues she’s been asked by parents; ‘Why Can’t My Child Physically Keep Up?’, ‘Why Does My Child Fall So Often?’, ‘Why Can’t My Child Pay Attention?’. She peppers her answers with research and anecdotes from experienced teachers.
The fact that really that grabbed me in this chapter was that a group of 300 ten year olds tested in 2008 were shown to be weaker than a group tested in 1998.
They were unable to do the same amount of sit ups.
They didn’t have the same arm strength.
And one in ten were unable to hold their weight when hanging, compared to one in twenty ten years earlier.
I was absolutely floored by this research.
Because even if we, as parents, “know” that our kids aren’t playing outside as much as previous generations, Hanscom is proving that the implications are real. It’s real for them at school, and it’s real for the effect on their learning.
Because the consequence of kids not being as physically strong as those of previous generations are many:
- If they don’t have adequate core strength, they are going to have trouble sitting still at their desks at school.
- If they don’t have adequate arm strength, they’re going to fatigue more easily when writing.
- If they can’t hold themselves up on the bars at school, they’re going to end up hurting themselves more often.
The ongoing effects of these kinds of things are that kids will have less resilience and more self esteem and anxiety issues, not to mention problems in the classroom for them and the teachers.
What else is in the book?
Hanscom delves into the reasons why this decline in strength is happening all over the world (we can’t just assume it’s an issue in the U.S. only), reasons such as:
- playground designs that aren’t challenging our kids as much as it used to
- less opportunity for kids to play freely outside
- a culture of fear and “be careful” parenting.
She also has a chapter on the body’s sensory system and how it’s affected by movement. She makes it easy to understand, explaining terms that parents may not have come across before (such as vestibular system and proprioceptive feedback).
Throughout the book she gives examples from her classroom experience and also from her nature based program TimberNook. She also backs up her writing with up to date references. Her book presents evidence based information about play, child development, the therapeutic effects of nature and more.
But don’t worry, it’s not a taxing read! With only 200 pages (broken down into 9 chapters) it’s easy to follow, with lots of real life anecdotes peppered in.
This book has informed my parenting more than any other parenting book I’ve read.
Since reading this book I have spent more time outside with my kids. I’ve encouraged more risky play. I’ve cut back our screen time. I’ve lent it to multiple friends. I’ve lent it to our Kindergarten teachers. I’ve used the information in this book to advocate for “Explorer Sessions” at our Playcentre.
It’s an important message. A message that is based on expert experience and research. Spread the word.
“My wish is that this new knowledge not only inspires you but also spurs you to action. For in order to create change and help the youngest of our society, we all need to do our part”. (Hanscom, Angela J., 2016)