Let kids be kids — that’s some of the most common parenting advice you’ll hear. But when it comes to letting them be kids outdoors, many parents take pause. According to one U.K. study, in fact, most kids spend less time outside than incarcerated adults. What a loss.
Every other summer when I was growing up, my family visited my great-grandmother’s ranch in the hills of northern California. A bounty of interesting and abandoned structures stood decrepit on this once bustling cattle farm, and it was all mine to discover.
I still remember searching for barn owls in the rafters of the old hay barn and relishing in the capture of the pudgiest bullfrog tadpoles from the dredger ponds. For what seemed like hours, I’d kneel on muddy knees as I earnestly tried to lure feral kittens out from under the front stoop of the farmhouse. Traveling through the fields alone, I was aware of the risk of startling rattlesnakes as I walked through thigh-high wildflowers, or the chance of meeting of an aggressive Angus bull. And the incessant buzz of wasps and hornets was never far away. Yet I was having the time of my life.
It was this faint whiff of danger that cemented my appreciation of nature and ultimately resulted in my choosing conservation education as my profession. Teetering on the edge of risk around the dangers of the ranch increased my attention to the world around me and elevated my respect for animals.