When I was nine years old, my family moved to the middle-of-nowhere, Texas. There, in the hundred-degree heat of my first Texas summer, I made friends with nature. Our new home was a worn, yellow house on two hundred scraggly acres of crackly grass, fields bristling with cedar, and low brown hills occasionally decked in wildflowers. We were deep in the country, a long trek away from groceries, neighbors, and the usual rounds of entertainment. Right at the beginning of our new country life, my mom made a momentous decision. Despite the bother of four restless little ones demanding entertainment, my mom resolutely refused the ease she might have gotten by long hours of indoor electronic entertainment. To our every protestation of boredom or loneliness, she brightly told us to “go outside.”
Out we went. The first day, a copperhead greeted us at the doorstep and the next day we encountered Texas fire ants in a dire sort of way. But we gained country savvy swiftly, and after those initial terrors came days spent almost entirely outdoors. We hunted butterflies in the far corners of the orchard, climbed trees, dug in my grandmother’s garden and came to know every inch of the cattle paths that wound through the cedars down to the pond. And we saw the stars; unfettered in the blackness of a rural night.
On the first cool evening, I sat on the porch and stared into the blackness as autumn crept through the fields. My little girl soul was abruptly overwhelmed by the vastness of it all. The scent of the air heightened my senses and for the first time, I connected the stars and wind, the beauty of the fields I had wandered, the fierce storms of the plains, and the endless black before me with the idea of eternity, with the God who made it all. I sensed something so much bigger than myself that I must be terrified or thrilled. I was, for an instant, afraid, but it was a fear born of awe, a wonder that filled my heart with a silent, childish amazement at the Maker of that world that haunts me yet.
I want every child to know that wonder. I want every child to feel their own delightful smallness next to solemn mountains or giant trees. I want every child to feel earth beneath bare feet, to stalk butterflies through tall grass, hear the click-click-click of grasshopper wings on a hot day. The problem is that many children are growing up apart from nature. Nature isn’t any harder to come by than it used to be, but screens are here in multitudes never seen before. The result of this is that childhood seems to be lived increasingly indoors. Technology, media, educational programs are certainly a gift, but ultimately, the world in which these things set children is an indoor world limited to a screen in a single room, small, controllable, containable.
To waken play, to kindle wonder and have it answered by beauty, children must be immersed in the beauty of a world far bigger than themselves. They need to be set amidst the story of creation so that the roofless space of the sky can widen their souls and call them to an adventure. They need the shout of starlight and the music of wind to show them beauty and teach them to hunger after it all their lives.