View Full Version : Free Play in the Woods Before Age 11

05-01-2006, 07:58 PM
I have not been able to search up the recent thread asking about the impact of youthful experiences in the woods. This researcher (http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/March06/wild.nature.play.ssl.html) at Cornell U concludes that the "free play" of hiking, hanging out in the woods, etc., before age 11 has a bigger impact on later respect for the environment than does more formal "mandatory" summer camp and educational experiences. I do recall from the VFTT thread how many hikers indicated that they'd played around in the woods as kids. This study confirms that free play has some beneficial long lasting effects. So . . . get out there and play! (Never mind the age part.)

sleeping bear
05-01-2006, 09:24 PM
The thread was Childhood Outdoor Experiences, it's probably a few pages back now.

I most certainly agree that "free play" has more direct impact, or is "better" than summer camp. I posed that question with the poll because I was curious what others though, and also to see if and where any connections were. I was very interested to see the poll results and read all of the stories everyone posted.

I grew up on 60 acres of woods in Michigan and playing in the woods was all I did until it wasn't "cool". Somewhere in college it became cool again and I've pretty much made it the focus of my life. I didn't go to summer camp, but I do currently work at one. I think it provides good expereinces for city kids who don't have opportunities to play in the woods. If I live in the city when I have kids they'll go to summer camp- oh wait, I'm not going to live in the city when I have kids because I want them to play in the woods... :D

I haven't looked at your research link yet, but I will in a minute. You should check out the book "Last Child in the Woods". They take the "free play" idea and twist it a little, talking about the "loose parts" found in nature that foster creativity and problem solving. It's a really interesting book, I HIGHLY reccomend it.

sleeping bear
05-01-2006, 09:26 PM
here it is (http://www.vftt.org/forums/showthread.php?t=11742)

Mark Schaefer
05-01-2006, 09:56 PM
There was also an earlier thread on Children & nature. (http://www.vftt.org/forums/showthread.php?t=10909)

I found this statement from the current research surprising.
Interestingly, participating in scouts or other forms of environmental education programs had no effect on adult attitudes toward the environment. For me the two were very intertwined, although just playing outdoors and family nature experiences did precede my participation in the scouts.

05-02-2006, 06:48 AM
I missed the earlier poll so I will chime in here. I lived in a small rural town until I was 12. My days during the summer were filled with hiking, fishing, playing ball, building tree forts, or just exploring the nearby woods. My constant companion was my collie named Dawn. The house was never locked and if I needed something while my mother was at work, I would simply ask a neighbor. From what I can see from my sister’s kids and other kids I encounter, those carefree days of just being a kid are forever gone. Now it seems that scheduling every waking moment of a kid’s life is the order of the day. I feel so sad for these kids who are unable to experience their childhood free from adult pressures.

05-02-2006, 06:53 AM
I have no doubt that my annual childhood summer escape from the confines of Pennsylvania to roam by myself in the New Hampshire woods gave me my love and respect for the Whites. I'm blessed to live in them now, and still have that strong desire to do a good hike at least once a week, all these decades later. ....And that's what it was as a child, "free play" in the woods, just wandering around in different forests, beside streams, and starting my lifelong quest for granite ledges with views. Perhaps the "free play" part is as important as the "in the woods" part. So many kids today don't have the opportunity...or ability...to enjoy "free play" without the hovering presence of parents, coaches, town rec. directors, camp leaders, facilitators, computer screens,.....rant, rant, etc.

05-02-2006, 07:25 AM
Growing up on the trails and in the mountains, it was second nature to be out in the woods. Before our town was built-out, there was a lot of woods and on a summer day, we'd be out there literally for hours.

I hated going to summer camp, though. Not sure what it was, but those two summers of summer camp were the worst in my life. If that was all I was exposed to, yeah, I probably wouldn't be much for nature. I hadn't really thought about it before until Waumbek posted the difference.

05-02-2006, 08:07 AM
I grew up in a somewhat rural cookie cutter neighborhood that was at the time surounded by many acres of undeveloped land (now it housea the Ipswich Country Club) while I learned a lot of really stupid things, like how to start a brush fire (luckily for us young punks it did not get out of control), and how to drink 16 ounce beers and Seagrams 7 rapidly while our parents thought we were camping it did teach me to love the outdoors...I always liked the idea of hiking and camping and it never really seriously manifested itself in me until my late 20s I guess it all started back when I was a kid.

05-02-2006, 09:01 AM
This is the title of a great book I came across that tells the story of the authors experiences growing up when kids just "went out to play" without all kinds of parental intervension and supervision. He tells the story with much humor and I found myself having many fond rememberances of my younger (6-12yrs) days tramping around in the woods and just being a kid experiencing the world "on my own" and trying to make my own sense out of it all.

05-02-2006, 09:31 AM
I'm definitely in agreement with the idea that those early years spent on my own or with friends in the woods contributed to a love and respect for the outdoors in later years. I was also involved in the Boy Scouts and considered it to be a positive experience, possibly because it was a family affair, father was scoutmaster for a while, two other brothers involved too. Also, summer camp wih the scouts was OK too, we knew our fellow campers and it was only 2 weeks per summer anyway.
I'm not sure what it is with parents these days and their over-scheduling with kids. It may have to do with the fact that they want the 'best' for them, whether piano lessons or the 'thrill' of playing organized sports :rolleyes: , but there's no denying that it's the thing to do these days. When I was a kid we had little to worry in that way, my mom didn't have a car until I was 13 years old and, with 6 kids, she was hardly in a position to be a 'soccer mom' anyway. My kids were raised somewhere in the middle between these two extremes, they seem to like hiking and camping now.


05-02-2006, 12:21 PM
Interesting that avk4136 should long to escape from the confines of Pennsylvania whereas I relished the life of the small town and surrounding woods in PA where I grew up. Beyond our back yard and vegetable garden grew a small patch of woods which we dubbed the Timber Cuttin’ Place. It was a place where we spent many, many days of our early childhoods. As we grew older we would venture beyond the monstrous expanses of the surrounding corn field and apple orchard. Behind both of these was a rough margin of woods beyond which flowed the crick (that’s creek to you city folk) where we had multiple swimming holes. The hills rose up behind the water; certainly not to the height of hills in NH but remote hills nonetheless. Deer, bear and wild turkey were all hunted in the hills around town. As the leaves changed color and fell, gunshots would ring out until the hunting seasons gradually slid into the silencing white blanket of winter. The only trails in the woods were the herd paths of a couple generations of boys running among the trees every day. We climbed trees, built campfires, swung on vines, built ‘camps’, smoked punk, played all manner of games and all without adult supervision, coordination or knowledge. It was the best of times.


05-02-2006, 02:20 PM
My friends take their kids (3 and 5) to swimming lessons, soccer practice, gymnastics, nature classes, indoor and outdoor play structures and then to the psycologist when the kids can't 'concentrate'!!...what the heck?!?

We would spend an hour filling a crack in a rock with our saliva and call it Spit Pond....A stick and a peice of string from the trash made a multitude of toys and 'weapons'....mud pies...solid rubber tires on bicycles...kicking a deflated ball around the block...sneaking sips of blackberry brandy from my parents liquor cabinet...street hockey...trees houses...hand-me-down clothes...DeSotos with running boards....jungle gyms with concrete bases (and no lawsuits)...ice cream cones for a dime....keds sneakers without the flashing lights....swimming in water holes next to burping frogs and creepy ferns touching our legs...jeans with at least two or three patches on the knees....being an 'alpha' tomboy and controlling all the boys....using the same sled for five winters in a row, then handing it down to my little brother...playing one, two, three red light and hide and seek....catching fire flies in a jar...Walt Disney and a bowl of popcorn every Sunday night....color forms...our 'bookbag' was my father's old cracked leather belt buckled around the books....book covers made from grocery bags....Major Mudd, Boomtown....Sky King and Penny....tumbling down a grassy hill being careful not to lose your gum...the quality of air in our little growing lungs was so much cleaner....and never, ever uttering a swear word in the presence of an adult!

Who knew then that I would spend time on a 'typewriter with a view' sharing thoughts of the good ol' days... :rolleyes:

05-02-2006, 02:38 PM
I guess I came close to the politically-incorrect offense of "statism"...so, with a nod of affinity to JohnL I'll admit that after the annual childhood trip to NH for the next 50 weeks or so I made myself at home in the PA woods. If anyone knew who I was, from kindergarten to highschool, it was "the kid who plays in the woods by the crick". When I return now I'm amazed at the size of the hardwoods, especially the towering tulip trees. It's just that back then I grew to like brooks more than cricks, balsams more than oaks. .....still do.
And I still like to play in the woods.

05-02-2006, 02:52 PM
You guys had pretty dull lives, huh ? When I was a young boy I had a magic flute named Freddie that could talk and play tunes on its own. One day I got on a magic talking boat that promised to take me on an adventure. Well, the boat happened to belong to a nasty lady called Witchiepoo the Witch, who used the boat to kidnap me and take me to her home on Living Island, where she hoped to steal Freddie for her own selfish needs. Fortunately I was rescued by the island's mayor, a six foot dragon named H.R. Pufnstuf. After I was rescued by Pufnstuf and his two deputies, Kling and Klang, my REAL adventures began, as well as my attempts to get back home ! I should write a book !

05-02-2006, 05:34 PM
Its priceless, ask my 12 yo son! He's tougher than his old man!

05-02-2006, 09:22 PM
You tell 'em, Kaavya. Er, Chip.

The Sikes
05-03-2006, 07:42 AM
I'm glad as a child I went "out to play" and that we didnt' have video games...to tie me to a chair. My kids enjoy going out to play and although I have caved to allowing them to play a little video action, I do limit it because I feel it takes away from their imaginations.

We would spend hours outside building tree houses out of just sticks or looking for strange creatures in the river....Life can be so hectic now escpecially for kids...Take them out and let them explore! Give them a rest from "life".

05-03-2006, 01:21 PM
I grew up in Upstate NY, and I was constantly outside either running in the woods or riding my bike!!! So....30 odd years later, and not much has changed!
Worst childhood memory? My mom brushing sticks out of my long hair on nearly a daily basis!! :D

05-03-2006, 01:44 PM
Our first child is a little boy of 9 months now. Of course we have already started talking about what things to introduce him to. I hope and personaly feel that he will learn just as much and gain more respect for the wildnerness by hanging out in it with dear old Dad, or on his own (with a little supervision/guidence) as he would by attending summer camp or joining scouts and without all the politics and schedules that go along with it.

05-03-2006, 02:25 PM
Re Mark Schaefer's post: OK, I scrapped my original message in place of this one:
The Boy Scouts have provided me, my brothers, my son, our grandson and many neighbors in those three generations with many wonderful opportunities and lessons, including outdoor experiences.
Given the current nature of academia, it is only to be expected that a cheap shot would be taken at the group that has provided more outdoor experiences to more American children than any other.
God bless the Boy Scouts of America. I thank them and was proud to volunteer as an adult, along with my wife.
I know I would not have this love of the outdoors had it not been for the Boy Scouts.

Mark Schaefer
05-03-2006, 02:58 PM
jjmcgo, I agree with you. All of my experience with the boy scouts were entirely positive with regard to wilderness education. Just to be clear I was only quoting from the original linked reference. It is always healthy to be suspicious of bias in studies. It seems that this study came to the same conclusions with regard to environmental education programs and all "mandatory" activities.

Free playing in nature is no doubt required, but it can only take you so far IMHO. At some point every child's wilderness education needs more guidance. The scouting and other youth groups provide that for many. Other parents will prefer and select other means. All children are different and even siblings may need different experiences.

05-03-2006, 03:40 PM
In my childhood neighborhood we (as in all the kids) were always out playing out in the woods, playing in the backyards, riding bikes, looking for then selling golfballs (lived by a course) and in winter sledding and making snowforts only coming in to change into a dry set of handy down snowsuits.

We had day long "army" battles where we all managed to survive or had a bunch of sand in our pants from playing with Tonka trucks. We road our bikes without helmets, road around in the back of pick-ups or station wagons. And visited the Mrs Sullivan because she gave us candy. We had no cable tv, video games and the remote control was me when Mom or Dad asked us to change the chanel. Some how I survived.

I do have to say though that the Boy Scouts did give me a chance to hike and camp. Two activities we did not do as a family.