Despite not having any children, or even any nieces, nephews, godchildren, or responsibilities for small people of any kind, I enjoy reading books on raising children. I found this book too late for my Scandinavian month, but just in time for my exploration of a simpler, more natural life. Combine the two, and we have ourselves a book on raising children the Scandinavian way.
There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather is by Linda Åkeson McGurk, a Swedish-born mother of two in Indiana. She recounts the contrast of raising two daughters in the US, and when they had to move back to Sweden for 6 months, illustrating the contrasts in cultural attitudes when it comes to raising children.
In Sweden, parents are much more concerned with their children getting fresh air every day. They like for them to play outside, in nature if possible, as much as they can. Children are allowed to nap outside, because they believe fresh air is good for you. They are fine with taking children outside in any weather (obviously barring dangerous ones like thunder/snowstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes), as long as the children are dressed for it.
There are even forest schools in Sweden, where children are allowed to explore nature all day, and all teaching is done outside. Regular schools also have a lot of outdoor time.
Being able to play with rocks, and insects, and plants makes children, and people in general, more connected with nature. This in turn makes people more likely to care for the environment, and want to preserve it. It gives parents opportunities to talk to their children about how their choices can impact the environment, and how they can make a difference.
A note on screen time:
Children all over the world are spending increasing amounts of time with smart devices. Parents in Scandinavia have the same problems as well. It’s hard to fight the allure of all the things one can do on a tablet, but it’s important to make an effort to get children to nature. After all, we’ve spent most of our history close to nature; it’s only in the past couple centuries that huge metropolitan cities have become a thing.
Children are allowed to be bored, because this sparks their imaginations and creativity. Parents don’t schedule extracurricular activities for their children, and also allows the child to decide what activities they want to pursue more seriously. This also translates to not pushing academics too early; play is a form of learning too, and not letting children play takes away important learning opportunities (more on this later).
They also don’t mind if children get dirty. (I mean, you really can’t expect kids to stay clean out in the woods or even at a park.) Dirty clothes can be cleaned, so long as the children are happy.
There’s a new term, “free-range parenting,” for what was considered the norm when I was young. Our neighbors didn’t call the cops when my mom had to leave us home for a few hours to go to work. They just kept an eye on us if we decided to play outside.
Letting children play without eagle-eyed adult supervision allows them to learn what their own limits are. They learn how to problem solve for themselves, and they also learn what they are comfortable with. It also allows them to learn from their own mistakes; if they fall off the monkey bars (do monkey bars still exist?), they’ll know to be more careful next time.
When children are given the freedom to choose for themselves, it also forces them to take responsibility for their choices and actions. If a child knows an adult isn’t going to help them down if they get stuck, they might not climb that tree.
It also helps them learn independence. There’s something freeing in knowing that you can take care of yourself, no matter how old you are. When an adult trusts you to do something, you learn to trust and believe in yourself as well. I remember a sense of pride when I was allowed to go to the park by myself (it was only two blocks away, and we were going in a giant group of cousins).
A Scandinavian Mother’s “Get Up and Go Outside” Manifesto
- There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
- Dress for the weather.
- Fresh air is good for you.
- Just let them play.
- A little dirt won’t hurt.
- Freedom with responsibility.
- Unplug to connect.
- It takes a village.
- We are one with nature.
Again, I don’t have any children, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A lot of these principles can be applied to adults as well: getting out to nature can recharge and rejuvenate us, and play has been known to spark creativity, which is extremely important in the business world. If nothing else, this book makes me want to take a long hike (I already enjoy taking walks in thunderstorms).
If you don’t have time to read the book, this is a very nice video done by SBS Dateline in Australia: