Going Beyond the Screen and into the Park

It was another winter day, but because it was the weekend, I was able to spend more time with my family. My wife and I cherish the opportunities that we have on the weekend where we can be with our two sons. Our children, who are four and two years old, enjoy sleeping late on the weekend. On this day, they did not have to get up early for their respective school and day care. After having breakfast and playing in their room, the boys wanted to watch cartoons on television. I told my wife that I wanted to take the boys to the park, and she thought they might be hesitant. My wife was right; the boys kept pleading their case about just staying inside for the day.

In the past, I had relented to my boys’ wishes about staying inside for the day. But after reading Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods,” I decided that Daddy was going to take the family into the park. The boys continually screamed for their television shows and toys, and my older son began to cry as I put his sneakers on his feet. After all the chaos just to get out of the house, we took a stroller to the park. The boys began to calm down as they observed the trees blowing in the wind, and a big, old Golden Retriever barking at us as we approached the park.

When we came to the edge of the park, my wife noticed a path leading towards a stream. I parked the stroller at the side of the path and perceived that the boys did not want to get up and walk. They were tucked snugly in their winter coats, and began to cry as I said we were going to walk to the stream. Both of the boys said that they still wanted to be pushed down the path in the stroller. Even though I was frustrated by their apparent lack of interest, I calmly told my wife to walk towards the stream. After my wife walked ahead, I followed her down the path. Our boys knew that they were going to have to get out of the stroller and walk down the path to be with Mommy and Daddy. Both of them ran to us to catch up. After a few additional complaints about not being in the stroller, the boys finally calmed down and began to enjoy their surroundings. They climbed over rocks and fallen branches and soon marched down to the stream. My older son looked around and found larger tree branch and stuck it into the stream. In a matter of fifteen minutes he was captivated – by nature. My younger son was also enjoying himself thoroughly. He was picking up different leaves and moving them from place to place, with a great smile on his face. The boys had soon forgotten about my wife and I, as we watched them frolicking all over this beautiful area of the park. The cries for the television, their toys, and the stroller were now nonexistent. After the boys had spent a couple hours playing in the park, they both told us that they were hungry. Further up the path we had found a bench, and sat down and ate. The boys strayed from us for moments to explore, and then came back for more food. My wife and I continued to enjoy watching the boys and their free play in the park.

After we walked home, I reflected on how much fun the boys had in the park. They were both truly enthusiastic and exploratory once they had a chance to really orient to where they had been. They had the opportunity to obtain first hand experience of the world around them, as opposed to watching cartoon characters or a computer dazzle them. They were able to use their senses and enjoy nature. I realize that television, computers, and cell phones will always be a part of our lives and each have become habitual commodities as forms of entertainment. However, nature is often now forgotten in this technological world, and it can be most awe-inspiring and enjoyable to the human spirit. After reading Richard Louv’s book, I began to realize that my sons have more access to the technological world than the natural world. The television, computers, and cell phones are in their home; the park is outside. Even though they love nature, the power of the screen can induce initial ambivalence, resistance, crying, and protests. Yet after reading and thinking about how important nature is to children’s well-being and actually witnessing it firsthand, I will continue to take my boys to the park.

by Dr. Adam Berman, a clinical psychologist and a certified school psychologist, who works with children and their families with regard to concerns about excessive amounts of time spent on the cell phone, computer, or watching television.

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