From the author of Noah’s Garden (1993), which advocated conversion of suburban lawns into more natural and ecologically sound gardens, comes an expanded thesis: We must “wild the land” not just for the benefit of other creatures but for the sake of our own species.
Stein argues that there is a mismatch between the biology of development and the environment that enables it. The derangement of our human habitat “isolates and estranges us,” she says, and as parents our task is to discover how to foster our children’s social engagement with the natural environment. To develop her argument she follows a roughly developmental order, from birth to adolescence, using experiences with and observations of her grandchildren and other youngsters she has known, plus memories of her own childhood. Buttressing her personal experiences are her gleanings from readings in natural history, paleoanthropology, linguistics, and psychology. She stresses the importance of self-discovery for children and urges creation of a natural environment outdoors that is for them as engaging and social as the kitchen is indoors. For parents squeamish about introducing their children to spiders, snakes, or other less appealing denizens of the outdoor world, she suggests starting with a bed of flowers. There are even recipes for a rose-petal jelly and a wild leek soup to be made from ingredients gathered outside. Stein emphasizes the value of giving children hands-on experiences, of introducing them to adult tools and teaching them manual skills. Children, she says, do not want to be (and should not be kept) unable to produce, earn, or in some other way be useful to their families, and parents who keep their children useless do them a disservice.
Grandmotherly wisdom, with practical advice for parents concerned about the way their children are growing up.