Review: How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson

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I love parts of this book.

As a child development grad, nature educator, and mom to six, I agree wholeheartedly that free play is where connection happens. Experiences and environment shape us. I also agree that technology can be a valuable tool to connecting with nature, in moderation. Sampson rightly asserts that we don’t have to know it all but we do need to MODEL a love for nature and inquisitiveness. He describes how important it is not to lead or quiz but ask open questions that further inquiry and communication.

There are excellent suggestions/ideas in this book that include
• Telling nature stories (parent and child telling) both personal, the written word, and of the Universe)
• Watching sunsets, having nature experiences with this child
• Journaling or recording nature with more modern means
• Importance of green and nature play spaces
• Following children’s leads in interests

Sampson mentions Anna Comstock my woman naturalist/educator hero.

How could a nature nut NOT geek out over all of that?

But then…
For a guy who obviously understands the nature of the universe he also falls into assumptions which fail to look at the world complexly, or acknowledge varying degrees of resources and flexibility.

For example, the author suggests that for connection to be made that DAILY free play time in nature is necessary.

What is that you say? You don’t have time with adult responsibilities to be out there with your kids every day? No worries! Mr. Sampson’s idea of free play is both unstructured AND unsupervised! Even for very young children!

In the introduction he blames technology, fear of stranger abduction, urbanization, and litigation for children’s lack of unstructured unsupervised time outdoors.
There ARE safety concerns outside abduction AND parents get reported to cps for ignoring them. Regardless of whether concerns are valid,
unsupervised roaming is no longer accepted by society.

On the flip side, many children in urban environments need MORE time with encouraging adults, not less.

It is entirely possible to have unstructured time that also includes supervision for safety’s sake.

Perhaps Sampson understands this as he goes on to make many suggestions where adult supervision IS present.
Yet even so,
time outside for free play in natural spaces is not something that is attainable daily for most parents, or teachers for many reasons, most of which are out of their control.
A teacher cannot say, “Screw teaching to the test! I’m taking these kids outside!” and expect to keep getting a paycheck.
A working parent (especially lower income without M-F 9-5 hours) often doesn’t have the resources in terms of time, or energy.

Another issue, is that like kids in nature book authors before him, there is a casual linking of children’s mental disorders to too much time indoors. Of course ADHD gets mentioned without any real understanding of the nature of the disorder. I would suggest, as a scientist, he have a good look at those “studies” and consider their small sample sizes and lack of follow up. I also wish he would go out to his nature spot have a good think about the danger of this irresponsible linking in terms of stigmatizing kids (and their caregivers) who live with childhood disorders.

(amazon star system – 3 stars)

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