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Raising Children, part 3: The Created World

Children need contact with the natural world. It’s an antidote to advertising and gives a different perspective on the universe—Mary Pipher, The Shelter Of Each Other

One of the greatest gifts we can offer to children is time spent in the natural world. Such time is increasingly rare. When the book Affluenza was published in 2001, studies had shown that the average American could identify fewer than ten types of plants, but recognized hundreds of corporate logos. If we want children to grow in health, competence, reverence, delight and humility, we would do well to reverse this ratio.

It’s clear that kids are physically healthier when they spend time outside, working or exploring in the fresh air, using their bodies. They may be healthier in other ways too. Candace Kelsey writes in Generation MySpace about how kids’ behavior changes over the course of a weekend camping in the woods, away from electronics: they fight less, they notice and enjoy more.

Spending time in the natural world helps children toward independence and away from herd mentality. They may learn survival skills like gardening, wildcrafting, fishing, hunting and navigation. They will almost certainly learn to slow down and pay attention to ther world around them.

The natural world is the created world, what God made, not what humans made. As such it invites children and adults into reverence, humility and a sense of meaning in a way that virtual life cannot.  Paying attention to the natural world, we recognize a system in which everything is related and all actions have obvious consequences for us as well as for the other creatures. This is very different from the quick-changing and fragmented digital world. Spending time outdoors, we are reminded of our smallness and of the greatness and complexity of the created world, its beauties, its gifts and its dangers. Psalm 119 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God;
 the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” This knowledge is freely available, day after day and night after night. Let’s make time for ourselves and our children to savor and learn from this gift.

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