Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Let Them Look

Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: What is natural parenting?

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our Carnival coincides with the launch of Natural Parents Network, a community of parents and parents-to-be who practice or are interested in attachment parenting and natural family living. Join us at Natural Parents Network to be informed, empowered, and inspired!

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


We Canadians have a scientist/documentarian/environmental activist/folk hero named David Suzuki. We've all grown up watching him talk about fruit fly genetics and such on TV. He is our Lorax. I once attended a lecture by David Suzuki in which he doled out some advice to parents on how to raise children to be deep ecologists.

"Just look at things with them," he urged. "Just let them look. Let them really look."

(Pssst....I'm totally paraphrasing here, don't let those quotation marks fool you...).

"Look at a plant with your kids. Ask questions about it. Does it look healthy? Does it look thirsty? Is it turning toward the sun for more light or is it drooping in the heat? That's all you have to do to raise a deep ecologist. That's it. Look at things. Let them look."
Since then, I've born three children onto this greeny-blue planet and I've recalled his Loraxy advice often. It fits, you see, with the deepest, coriest parts of my natural parenting philosophy.

Let them look.

Cause the thing is, they want to look.

When I was a ghastly bloated orb, pregnant with my firstborn daughter, I was sitting on my stoop as a mom and her toddler walked by. She was dragging him down the block by one arm as he was digging his heels into the sidewalk. He wanted to look at the pine cones littered around the base of the giant blue spruce in my front yard.

"C'mon," she pleaded. "We don't have time to look at pine cones. Put those down, let's go!"

He responded with some passive resistance techniques that made her bellow, "Come! On! I said we don't have time! Put those dirty, gross things down NOW."

He was pre-verbal, that little guy, just learning to walk, and the look on his face said, "BUT MOM! There is a gigantic pile of the most wonderful things sitting right here on the ground for just anybody to look at -- they have the oddest symmetry, they have the most exquisite concentric patterns, and I long to discover the spiny texture of their bracts with my curious little fingers. How could there possibly be anything we need to do more than looking at these amazing objects right NOW!"

(Yup, I'm paraphrasing again, I do that.)

I made a vow to my unborn child and to the universe that I would never be that mom, yanking her kid along the sidewalk and bellowing about not having time to look at pine cones. I will make time to look at pine cones, dammit!

Now, a mother of three small kids, it's not entirely rare to find me barking at my brood about not having time to look at pine cones. Or sticks. Or bits of road crush. Or clumps of sod / dirty chunks of ice / clots of leaves in the gutter, etc. etc. etc.

Sometimes, I honestly cannot bear to admire another piece of gravel held aloft in the palm of a tiny hand for fear that the banality of that small stone might make my head implode.

And of course, sometimes we really are in a big important rush and we really don't have time.

But other days we make time. We do.

We're what you'd call outdoorsy people. We do things like this with our kids:

And we go places like this:

Where we break for things like this:

Yup. Mushrooms on a log.

That's why my four year old can say "ear fungus" and "pileated woodpecker."

If you take your kids someplace like this:

They will find something like this:

When they do this:


If you let them.

There are lots of reasons I would call myself a natural parent: I breastfeed and I waterbirth and I grow heirloom tomatoes and we eat local. I cloth diaper and read bedtime stories about gay penguins and own an absurd number of slings. But the crux of natural parenting, to me, is never about the latest trend or gack -- it is about our relationship as a family to nature. It's about how utterly essential it is to me, as a parent, to not crush my babies' innate curiosity and fondness for the natural world, but to nurture it.

Our relationship to nature isn't defined by grand outings to far flung and wild places so much is it is about how we relate to it daily.

The other day I was out and about with my wee ones and my dog for a stroll in the river valley, an enormous urban green space. I love living in a city where we have access to lots of green space!

My two year old, who was toddling along the leaf-strewn trails, kept bringing amazing discoveries to his baby sister in her buggy. He brought her a large yellow leaf, then a birch twig, then a pine cone. Each treasure was given and received with rapture. The pine cone was a big hit, causing her to cast all other gifts aside the better to fiercely clutch it in her tiny, dimpled hand. She covered it euphorically in drool.

And passersby kept pointing it out to me.

"Uh oh," they'd alert me. "Your baby has a pine cone!"

I don't quite get what the problem could be but it seems the general consensus is that babies shouldn't be allowed to have pine cones. It would seem that people expected me to be alarmed, to snatch it away from her, and to say, aghast, "No, Baby! They're dirty and they're gross!"

But I don't think they are dirty or gross. I think they are fantastic examples of Fibonacci mathematical sequences in nature. I think they are much better math lessons than this:

Don't I sound smart yakking about Fibonacci number sequences? It's because I chewed on pine cones when I was a baby.

The irony that grates on me is I just know nobody would perceive a problem if my baby was cutting her teeth on one of these:
But I would. I would freak. That made-in-China Dollarama dazzle is full of lead and barium and all manner of crazy toxins. It's dirty and it's gross. I wouldn't let my baby put that schizzle next to her skin, never mind in her mouth.

But this, I don't so much have a problem with:

As natural parents, let's treat our children's curiosity about nature with respect. Let's not belittle their desire to look, to really look, at the things they find. Let's tend to agree with them that yes, that heap of pine cones is a grand discovery and each one is a dear treasure and examining them is a good use of our time here on Earth.

Let's always recognize the simple fact that when a toddler sees a poplar catkin / a magpie feather / a round smooth river rock with flecks of quartzite / a patch of clover / a boulder twice his height / a duck track in the mud / an earthworm drowning in a puddle or a mess of pine cones littering the base of a spruce tree in someone's front yard, it is likely the first time that he has ever seen such a thing.


In his whole entire life!

And he must look!

And he must touch!

And she may need to drool on it!

They must!

Let them look!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaStop by Natural Parents Network today to see excerpts from everyone's posts, and please visit a few to read more! Visit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Three of the participants below will instead be featured on Natural Parents Network throughout the month, so check back at NPN!

This list will be updated by afternoon November 9 with all the carnival links. We've arranged it this month according to the categories of our NPN resource pages on "What Is Natural Parenting?"

Attachment/Responsive Parenting

Attachment/responsive parenting is generally considered to include the following (descriptions/lists are not exhaustive; please follow each link to learn more):
    • "Attachment Parenting Chose Us" — For a child who is born "sensitive," attachment parenting is more a way of life than a parenting "choice." Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares her experiences. (@CodeNameMama)
    • "Parenting in the Present" — Acacia at Be Present Mama parents naturally by being fully present.
    • "Parenting With Heart" — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment parents naturally because healthy attachments early in life help our little ones grow into healthy, functioning adults.
    • "Sometimes I Wish We Coslept" — Sheila at A Gift Universe has started to add cosleeping into her sleep routines and has found frequently unspoken benefits. Watch for her post, which will be featured on Natural Parents Network on Tuesday, November 30. (@agiftuniverse)
    • "Unconditional Parenting" — The philosophy of Alfie Kohn resonates with Erin at Multiple Musings, who does not want to parent (or teach) using rewards and punishment. (@ErinLittle)

Ecological Responsibility and Love of Nature

Holistic Health Practices

  • "Supporting Natural Immunity" — If you have decided against the traditional vaccination schedule, Starr at Earth Mama has some helpful tips for strengthening your children's immune systems naturally.

Natural Learning

  • "Acceptance as a Key to Natural Parenting" — Because Mrs. Green at Little Green Blog values accepting and responding to her daughter's needs, she was able to unravel the mystery of her daughter's learning "challenges." (@myzerowaste)
  • "Let Them Look" — Betsy at Honest 2 Betsy makes time to look at, to touch, and to drool on the pinecones.
  • "Why I Love Unschooling" — Unschooling isn't just about learning for Darcel at The Mahogany Way — it is a way of life. (@MahoganyWayMama)
  • "Is He Already Behind?"Ever worry that your baby or toddler is behind the curve? Danielle at born.in.japan will reassure you about the many ways your little one is learning — naturally — every day. Watch for her post, which will be featured on Natural Parents Network on Tuesday, November 16. (@borninjp)
  • "How to Help Your Child through Natural Learning" — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now offers tips on how to understand and nurture your child's natural learning style. (@DebChitwood)

Healthy Living

Parenting Philosophies

Political and Social Activism


  1. Ah I have often said "I will not be *that* mom!" And then, months later, I am guilty of being *that* mom ;) But you're right, I *do* try to remember that everything is so new to Kieran. How amazing that must be!!

  2. Thank you for this. I need this reminder. It is so easy to get distracted by what we feel we need to get done and be in a hurry and forgot that it is their first time seeing things and that we need to, as parents, "stop and smell the roses" too sometimes with our children.

  3. Betsy, I love your sense of humor! :) I have a big smile on my face, sigh. I can be more of the serious type. LOL

    This gathered it all together for me...

    "But the crux of natural parenting, to me, is never about the latest trend or gack -- it is about our relationship as a family to nature."

    Yes. Absolutely yes. It's not about the label 'natural parent' ... it's about being with our children in the world in the present moment, soaking it all up. Thank you for sharing your colorful experience through words and pictures! :)

  4. As a fan of Dr. Seuss's Lorax, I really loved your post! How true that young children are seeing things for the first time. And how great that you respect and encourage your children's positive relationship with the natural world.

  5. Oh this post is so so so so so so so so so wonderful and speaks to my heart.
    I'd live in the garden if I could - and my kids know it. And... are kind of forced into it, by default. We dream of the time when we'll have our own big backyard to explore, but in the meantime, we take advantage of the nature we have around us - and that means the pinecones in the street - even if they've been squished by myriad cars.

    There is nothing more awesome than nature with children. They recognize everything. They SEE everything. Hiking with children? The pinacle. Seriously.

    I've blogged a couple times about nature & my kids. Here's our first "real" family hike:

  6. I love picturing your baby chewing on the pine cone!

    I was recently on a walk with a mother and her three-year-old who was getting frustrated at her for picking up things (leaves, feathers, seeds) along the way. I understand that sometimes we're in a hurry, but MOST of the time, why not let them experience the world the way they want to? I'm excited for that day with my son. Thanks for writing this!

  7. I'm all for chewing on a pine cone...or in our case they're actually spruce cones. I actually bought my daughter one of those made in China tiaras, regretted it because of the toxins and wanted to take it away, but it was too late - she's in love with it. But she's also in love with the spruce cones and the fall leaves and the ducks out back in our slough. So I figure I let her hang with nature a fair bit to be a semi-natural parent.

  8. Wonderful post - you had me laughing! You're quite right of course. We need to take the time to stand back and watch our kids explore. I don't see why a pine cone is gross and dirty either - we have a whole display of them, chestnuts, fall leaves and acorns in our homeschool fall display, and they're stunning.

  9. Yes! Love this! I love getting my girls out in nature and also strive to bring nature in to examine & explore indoors, alongside their other toys. There is so much great stuff to see, smell and touch out there, free (and generally healthy) for anyone!

  10. Wow, you're awesome!

    I just found you via the carnival and I couldn't agree more, all while admiring your humor and well-placed photos. Awesome!

    Nice to meet you --


  11. Oh, yes! I was always the mama at the park letting her child eat dirt while the other parents jumped in the minute their kids looked at something dirty. Then they would kind of look at me dirty, but I didn't mind. I knew what I was doing. I needed this reminder to allow more time to stop and chew on pinecones. So often I am in a hurry or just don't feel like sitting outside in the damp and chill — but, dang it, that's where the good stuff is.

    And, yes, I did spend quite a bit of time playing over on that site about Fibonacci number sequences. Thank you for that. Now I feel ten times smarter and will bore everyone about pinecones the next time I have a chance.

  12. I love this! These days, my 2-yo boy has been picking up little acorns while we're on our way to preschool. He fills his pockets with them. I've also made a compromise between his desire to explore and my desire to get where we're going: I'll decide in advance that we'll walk so many blocks (1 long block, 3 short blocks, or more, whatever) before I pick him up and/or put him in the stroller. And we're rarely in a car (we don't own one), so when we're out, we can always stop and look — at the leaves, at a squirrel, at the moon.

  13. I started hiking with my oldest girl when she was three months old, in the front carrier, and breastfeeding. With co-sleeping, it was easy to wake early with her, provide her first feeding and head out during her best hours. As she grew, we explored nature at what became, at times, a painfully slow pace for an active adult. But it was wonderful to watch her discover her world. Enter her baby sister and we did it all over again, but this time with the added element of sisterly exploration and love. Today, the girls are 8 and 10, well traveled, secure, thoughtful people with questions like, "If I smashed air completely flat, would it have a color?"

    We've opted to educate our girls at home (technically NOT at home since we're more often exploring than home) and while we generally have a plan, this is more often the way things go - following their natural inquisitiveness and creativity: http://jenpb.blogspot.com/2010/11/when-homeschoolers-go-unsupervised.html

  14. I know people think I'm "that mom" because of the things I let my kids do. Looks like you go some amazing places.
    We love being out in nature exploring and learning.

  15. I love this! Especially the last part about putting pinecones in their mouths.

  16. Wow what a sanctimonious post where you talk about how clever you are and where the other people who read this (possibly your friends), also talk about how clever they are.
    Clap clap clap.


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