A Free-Range Childhood, Part 1

It is hard to be a child in 2014. The pressures and distractions of adulthood inevitably trickle down to children who often suffer the effects of mum’s and dad’s increasingly digital lifestyles. At a time when research shows what young children need most is quality time with their parents, the trend is in the other direction.

For some reason I have always been fascinated with this type of tension between extremes. Perhaps this is why I gravitated toward Buddhism, which is based on the story of a royal prince who takes a vow of poverty and then finds a middle way. Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 2.28.40 PM

Verti finds her Middle Way. 

In common language we call the middle way a “balanced life.” My observation is that it is hard to achieve and getting harder all the time. As a social science researcher I am fascinated by the way people live their lives, especially when certain behaviours run contrary to what they report to be their values. In other words, there is a dynamic tension between what we do and what we think we ought to do.

From my observations there was a similar dynamic tension at the centre of the A Place to Live Conference recently held in W(h)anganui. I chose not to spend $1,000 to attend the three-day conference, so my perspective is based only on what has come through the media.

It appears that the conference had a significant focus on refuting Shamubeel Eaqub’s recent comments, which came through at times in what Kim Hill identified as “boosterism” during her radio show. Fair enough. Most of us love living here and are not afraid to say it. I love living in W(h)anganui and “boost” it at every opportunity.

But at the same time I am not afraid to critically reflect on our city in an attempt to make it even better. We hear from various sectors of our community the desire to change, but without critical reflection we are destined to stay the same. In the spirit of critical self-reflection, here is some food for thought.

Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 2.28.30 PM

Verti in a moment of reflection. 

On the one hand, the keynote speaker brought from America for the conference, Richard Louv, promoted the value of children spending time in nature. On the other hand, numerous speakers representing Whanganui promoted the digital world and ultra-fast broadband.

While there may be nothing inherently wrong with either of these messages, placing them side-by-side presents us with what is probably the most difficult proposition facing humanity: our ongoing disconnection with nature caused largely by our increasing connectivity with technology. We are separating en masse from our life support system (Earth) in favour of a tech support system (Microsoft).

As difficult as it is for adults to find balance between Mother Earth and motherboard, I suggest it is infinitely harder for children. They are so easily dazzled by the colours, sounds, and movements of passive screen entertainment.

If we as parents, teachers and a Whanganui community wish to instill an abiding love and respect for nature in our children, it will be a monumental task made all the more difficult by the increasing role of technology in our lives. This is not a judgment, but a statement of fact.

I know this because my wife and I have spent the last 27 months trying to raise a free-range child with an active, independent mind. It has been damn hard work. Yes, at times it feels like work, but if you know our daughter, Verti, you know that at two she is already an inquisitive, creative problem-solver. Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 2.28.57 PM

Verti engaged in play – imitating papa.

Our simple formula is based on research in brain development: 1) no screen technology before age three; 2) constantly talking to her from day one; 3) providing her with opportunities for creative, independent play.

The aim is not to raise a Luddite child – technology will inevitably come. The aim is to prepare a human being who is best able to consider a vast array of competing factors and choose her own middle way.

To be continued…


Peace, Estwing

2 thoughts on “A Free-Range Childhood, Part 1”

  1. You are right there – very hard. Even more so when your hubby is a self employed computer expert! We went Steiner and have never regretted it even if both teens are now glued to their phones/computers – at least they get out and do stuff and creativity has never been an issue either.

    I think it is more how you come across than what you have in the house and we have always tried for creativity and the outdoors whenever possible.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s