Picture by Mike Esterl, for the WSJ.
As I sit by the light of the computer, with my 12-year-old at my side, who is still laboring over his homework, long after his brothers are asleep, I stumble across the slide show of the fortunate little kindergartners featured on the front page of the April 14, 2008 edition of the Wall Street Journal (German Tots Learn to Answer Call of Nature.) This kindergarten class (the US-equivalent of preschool) is held in the woods, following the original philosophies of the original kindergarten opened over 150 years ago by Friedrich FrÃ¶bel, the German educator. “Playing in nature, rather than focusing on letters or numbers, was best for young children,” he said. That’s a sure-fire antidote to our stressed-out preschoolers.
My favorite line in the WSJ article is this quote from one of the kindergartner’s teachers, Ms. Schnaar, when asked about the children outside, four hours each morning, in 40 degree weather. “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing decisions.” Interestingly, the fresh air seems to keep them from getting sick as often. (The German children wanted to know also, if the American reporter, Esterl, was a cowboy, or an Indian.)
Quite a dichotomy I feel as I watch these young children play in the woods in the slide show, exercising their imaginations, while I worry that the only tree my 12-year-old experiences lately is our wooden kitchen table. As his mother, watching him suffer to keep his eyes open, while the pending doom that he may miss a homework deadline looms. I feel as if I’ve been punched in the stomach.
But he’s a big kid now. Right? He no longer needs to play, explore and to have enough free time to decide he wants to make a lance out of a stick, and then to make one.
Still, I can’t help but wonder, did I stuff his time with enough moss, tree stumps, and dried leaves in the small allotted time I was given? Or has the onslaught of homework wiped out all the nature that was poured into his soul?
Another time, I will write about the house I left behind, the fairy-tale house in the woods that my two older sons relished in. They’re running here in this photo below. Can you tell this was years before I got my new camera? Can’t help but notice our little lovely Max there, down in the right hand corner.
True, we do have the lake, but I’m starting to wonder if even that’s a “sure thing.” Strange, how we have school vacation in the summer, yet the coaches are already mandating sports schedules that start in July. Don’t these people ever take vacations? Ever heard of them? A three-hour commute may be tough. Will there be a summer at the lake?
Inspired, and a bit “scared straight,” after reading this article about the importance of the outdoors to our children’s emotional well-being, I vow to take the kids to the woods everyday after school. Through sleet, snow, ice and rain. My oldest can do his homework there in the woods, sitting on a tree stump. As if it were real, I can almost hear the pain in my son’s voice as he proclaims how “embarrassing it will be to do that.”
Still, knowing that fresh air and green grass, is so beneficial to the mind, I’m sure that doing homework outside, while his brothers build tee-pees and castles around him, could probably help him get the work done so much faster. This will be a tough sell. Especially if it is sleeting, and his homework does get wet, and ripped, and I have to write nightly notes to his teacher, “I’m sorry, but the homework got beaten up in the hailstorm yesterday afternoon. Again.” I guess, I could just give him a stack of notes, pre-signed, that he could keep in his backpack and whip out whenever needed.
Now, I think about that house we looked at five years ago, just a few blocks away from this one, that sat directly in a woods. We turned that house down. Terrible floor layout. How I wish we had it now. Who cares about the floor plan, when the kids get to spend time outside building sofas out of tree stumps and twigs; what they would call a “wald sofa.” How much happier we’d be. Ahhh, but yes, the kids wouldn’t be able to walk to school from there, like they do here. And, sure, our houses may be piled on top of each other over here; but we have those chicks.
Seriously, about this homework problem. Here’s a story about starting a revolution. There’s a book, The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Children and What Parents Can Do About It, that lays everything out.