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Bug-a-phobia and playing outside

Finally it’s starting to feel like summer in Ottawa, and that means the bugs are out. In our house, my husband is the bug catcher. I really prefer not to have anything to do with killing mosquitos, spiders, ants or centipedes. The few times we’ve found a mouse in the basement, I’ve covered my eyes and looked away while he dealt with it.  It’s true, I don’t like bugs, or small creatures, and I think my kids are catching on. I’ve heard my 2 year old yell out ‘ANT!’ and run away whenever she sees one. My son tends to get a bit worked up whenever he sees a mosquito in the house. I’m a bit concerned about what a family camping trip might look like.

How did this happen? Did I manage to pass along my disdain for these small creatures on to my kids? Am I a bug-a-phobe?

Apparently there is something called biophobia, which is being uncomfortable or afraid of ature. It’s more and more common among generations of kids who are raised with in a culture where most of their free time is spent watching television or playing video games.  They just don’t get opportunities to be “one with nature.” We do live in suburbia, and my kids do watch tv, but there are many parks around us and we spend time outside as often as we can.  That must not be enough.

I realized that even when I was growing up, I didn’t have that many experiences with the outdoors. I was a Brownie for a few years, but we never camped and our family vacations were mostly road trips out East or to Florida. Sure we went to zoos and aquariums and had pets, but how often did I head out to the woods and catch a dragonfly in a jar or let a caterpillar crawl on my arm? Ew gross. Never!

So I started thinking, at some point in our history we lived in the woods, right? We hunted, we built what we needed with the things we found around us. We entertained ourselves with what nature had to offer. We weren’t afraid of bugs or small creatures. Or peeing in the woods. Embracing nature should be in our genes, shouldn’t it? When did we start being afraid it?

After a little bit of research about kids and nature, I came across an interesting read, Children’s Outdoor Play & Learning Environments by Randy White & Vicki Stoecklin. Here’s a summary of what they had to say about kids and nature:

-teaching kids about the environment needs to start early and be hands on.
-a love for nature develops when kids have free, unmediated contact with it.
-kids can develop a love for nature when they have  free access to it for long time periods.
-it’s only when we give kids the chance to build an intimate relationship with nature  for an extended period of time that they can appreciate its wonder.
-when kids appreciate nature, they will learn to appreciate and cherish the whole planet.
-playing outside and in nature helps kids use their imaginations (this is so true, I have memories of creating imaginary worlds in the small row of trees behind our park growing up!)
-when kids play in nature, they are more likely to have positive feelings about each other and their surroundings.
– outdoor spaces allows kids to gradually distance themselves from their parents or caretaker, which helps them experience independence and separation.

These all seem like very good reasons to encourage our kids to play outside, and in nature. So how do we do this?

Do you have ideas or suggestions on how you help your kids cultivate a love of the outdoors?

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