Raising A Wild Child? You'll Want To Read These Books

by Joelle Wisler

We all know that our kids need time to play freely and be wild. It’s just, how do we do this in the places that we live? And how do we make our kids not whine and holler about how nature is so boring?

And is it really that important?

Here’s a list of books to support us on our journey of raising our wild, free-spirited kids. They explain how and where and why we should all bring a little wild into our kids’ childhoods.

1. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

This book explores all of the research out there that shows the why. And yes, it’s proven over and over that children need to experience the natural world. There is a lot of research. It explains in detail why nature is absolutely crucial for kids’ minds, bodies, and even their development. The author, Richard Louv, even has a name for the lack of exposure to nature, which is “nature deficit disorder.” He believes that this disorder can lead to all sorts of mental and physical ailments.

One of my favorite quotes from the book, “In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.”

2. Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)

This book was written by the woman who let her 9-year-old child ride the subway by himself. Remember her? I do. She blew up the blog-o-sphere and pulled every sanctimommy out from hiding in one single action. She believes that, in order for kids to be self-reliant and confident, they need to take risks and be out in the world. While I know for a fact my 9-year-old would get lost on the subway (simply because he has no sense of direction), I agree whole-heartedly with the fact that we need to let kids be more independent in today’s world.

3. The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less

Oh, the Dutch. Always so happy. This book delves into just why Dutch children report being happier too. One of the main reasons, the authors speculate, is that the Dutch treat children like “individuals rather than extensions of themselves.” Helicopter parenting just doesn’t exist. They allow their children more freedom out in the world. The parents themselves are more relaxed.

Well, American parents, it looks like we need to put away our over-controlling ways and just chill a bit more. Thank god.

4. Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children

Sedentary children. I mean, that phrase is almost an oxymoron. Kids need to move to be happy. Bodies need to move to be healthy. This book is written by a pediatric occupational therapist, Angela Hanscom, who just happens to be an expert on kids and movement. She talks about how, if our kids don’t move and use their senses, it can lead to all sorts of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems. She also explains that being out in nature is the best sensory experience that you can find. Best of all, she tells us simple tricks of how to get our kids out into nature for those of us who might not live in the middle of the forest.

5. Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

Written by psychologist Peter Gray, this book argues that our educational system is broken. That we, as adults, schedule and script our kids out of their childhoods. That modern schooling decreases kids’ motivation and natural learning processes. That kids need to play outside as much as possible because “free play is nature’s means of teaching children that they are not helpless.” This book almost makes me want to homeschool, but oh, who am I kidding, I could never.

6. Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting With the Natural World

The family in this book is amazing, and I sorta hope they will adopt me. They bought some beautiful land in Northern Vermont and went all Swiss Family Robinson; making their own food, growing a business, and unschooling their kids (a fancy way of saying that the children pursue their interests rather than follow a prescribed curriculum). On a side-note, I think that if I let my kids pursue their interests unfettered, that mud would eventually be clinging to our ceiling fan. I like the sentiment of the book — however extreme — that they believe if you can put aside the idea that success and raising children have to look a certain way, life can be infinitely enjoyable.

7. There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge)

This book documents the struggle of a Scandinavian mother who came to the United States and immediately began to feel the constraint of our modern society. I mean, babies in Sweden nap outside in extremely cold weather, and if you did that here, you might have CPS knocking at your door. This book is the author’s attempt to bring her culture of playing outside (yes, even in freezing temperatures) to America so that her kids can have the same kind of unrestricted childhood that she enjoyed.

8. How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature

Seven hours a day. That’s the average amount of time a child in North America spends on screens a day. WTF? And they only spend minutes outdoors. This book explores the vital connections between, yes, again, nature and healthy childhoods. Kids do better: They are happier, healthier, smarter, stronger, by getting off the damn screens and being in the world. We need to do better, people.

“When a child asks a question and you know the answer, it’s natural to want to share it. Providing the answer makes us feel good and we presume that kids really want to know. But this inclination can lead us astray. Often times, our response ends the interaction by cutting off curiosity.”

Happy reading! Now let’s all go hide the chargers to the electronic things, and go sit in a park somewhere. Or something.

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