It was on a random trip to the library so my daughter could pick up more books that I discovered Outdoor Kids in an Inside World: Getting Your Family Out of the House and Radically Engaged with Nature by Steven Rinella (Random House, 2022). I didn’t need more books; I already had a stack of approximately 347823473982432 books at home that I needed to get through, but as a parent who has been trying to get my kiddo to spend more time outside and enjoying all that nature has to offer, how could I pass this book up? I decided to bring it home and read one chapter per day before I read my regular book. And this was a great strategy!
Kids spend way too much time indoors these days. Part of it is the ongoing pandemic, sure, but a large part of it is because that’s how life is structured these days. The lure of technology, combined with overscheduling, along with parents’ unrelenting work schedules, have created a natureless monster as far as outdoor time is concerned. And kids are missing out, argues Steven Rinella. Nature is important for their development, and we all benefit when we’re more engaged with the nature around us.
Using examples from his own family’s experiences with nature, Mr. Rinella tackles topics such as foraging, hunting, gardening, fishing, exploring, and all the other activities that families can do outside. The possibilities are nearly endless, and you don’t need to co-own a cabin on the Alaskan coast or live in the middle of the forest, surrounded by woods, to make nature a daily part of your life. Examine the plants in the cracks of the sidewalk in front of your house; go on nature scavenger hunts around town; learn about the stars and constellations; camp in your backyard; turn rocks over in the creek in the middle of town; learn to identify plants and weeds in the local park; get a bird guide and set up a bird feeder on your balcony, and grow some herbs in a pot. Nature is all around us, and the more of it we incorporate into our lives, Mr. Rinella tells us, the better off kids and parents will be.
This is truly a lovely book that will inspire you to get out there, get your kids out there, and start investigating all the wonders around us. I re-downloaded a plant-and-animal identifying app and have been using it like crazy lately; I have another foraging book from interlibrary loan that I’m excited to delve into. And when my sister-in-law called to ask if I wanted to bring my daughter to walk in the woods and get gross in the creek, I was all in:
We all know that nature is important in some aspect, though we all have different experiences and levels of tolerance for nature. Mr. Rinella argues that being uncomfortable and learning to deal with that discomfort (wet shoes, bug bites, fluctuating temperatures, etc) is part of the learning process and will turn our kids into heartier adults. I had varying experiences with nature as a kid: while I wasn’t super into being outdoors as a teenager, there were times when I was neck-deep in creeks as a child, and I was deeply interested in learning to identify all the plants and weeds in my yard (which wasn’t all that possible to do back then. Yay for the internet for making this dream come true for me! I can now identify a LOT of the stuff growing on my property, and around the paths nearby). I’m working hard to make sure my daughter develops a similar love and respect (very important there!) for nature, and this book really helped me cement the importance of this goal.
If you know you need to get your kids off their tablets and playing outside more, this book is definitely the kick in the pants you need to get started.
(Quick note: I found that Mr. Rinella is very respectful of boundaries that don’t necessarily mirror his own; he’s quick to point out that while hunting is his family’s thing, he gets that it’s not for everyone, and this tracks for the book in its entirety. I deeply appreciate his understanding of how different families may engage with nature differently, and how what’s right for one family may not be an acceptable activity for another.)