I agree with Louv that we are making outdoor play more structured. In my work, all the activities are structured. We hike, we ski and we skate as a group. We are not just letting the kids go off and explore on their own. As a staff member working with other people’s kids, I do have to be sensible.
Regardless of this structure, I have observed that kids do act differently when they’re in the woods. Kids that are normally loud are quieter, though not all together quiet, while hiking. Kids are humble and more respectful of adults. I think they sense their smallness and vulnerability. Their senses are peaked. They look for things. They wonder about things.
On a recent hike, the water pump provided endless fascination. They showed great satisfaction and joy when pumping while pumping and especially when the water pour out. Just the act of pumping creates an awareness of the earth’s geology and where water comes from. I could see their brains ticking frantically after telling them that the water is stored between cracks in the rock. They thought there was a tank underground. My heart grew several sizes in that moment. I’ll never know what these kids will take home from these trips, but I doubt they are the same.
In today’s world, we do what we can to get kids outside, even if it’s structure. We can encourage outdoor play and creativity. I don’t see how I can do more.