By Monkey's Uncle | August 4, 2011
Parenting is all about teachable moments, wouldn’t you agree? Every parent wants to use everyday life to teach their kids about living, don’t they? And I’d say that probably skews even more true for those who are attracted to this website. Anyone involved enough (don’t say attachment parenting… don’t say attachment parenting…) in their child’s life to be concerned that they get outdoors enough, is probably interested in teachable moments. Especially when those moments are able to come about outdoors.
But wait! What if you got ALL THIS, but also were able to achieve two more things: tired children, and children who were cooled off from the summer heat? Act now, and take your kids: swimming in natural places. Thas’ right—the ol’ swimmin’ hole. Actual, honest-to-goodness, unchlorinated, water. With fish. And stuff. Ew, really?
Yes, really, and today I’d like to offer some quick arguments why, with a bonus item for those of you lucky enough to live on the coasts.
First, natural swimming teaches kids about EFFECTS, especially if you go regularly. It’s easy to talk about a water shortage but hard for kids to understand. It’s easy to say we shouldn’t use pesticides, but when your kids have a favorite farm pond they swim in, it makes the issue hit home much more. (I am NOT suggesting taking your children or mine swimming in polluted water). When you go to a place often throughout the summer, the kids are then able to see the water level drop, etc. Best of all, if there are animals present (fish, insects, frogs) it gives that extra boost of personal involvement- then they aren’t just worried about “the pond”, but specific creatures in the pond. “Mr. Frog” is much more personable than “Mr. Pond.”
This leads to the second benefit of swimming naturally rather than in the antiseptic and chemically clean pool. Kids see they’re part of nature. Part of an ecosystem. This is of course tied in with the idea of effects, but varies slightly. It isn’t about seeing what we do to the pond, but seeing what’s there already and how I as a human fit into it. To swim with the fishes is different and more “honest” to the realities of the Earth than going to the pool. Which brings about an unintended but significant sub point. Everyone in town knows exactly where “the pool” is, and thus everyone goes there. That’s part of its appeal, socially. But a secret swimming hole is just that, slightly secret. Even if lots of people know about the “secret”, it will never have the draw that the local pool does. And that is much more healthy and teaches lots more about adult relationships, than you can learn at what amounts to a liquid mall.
Finally, if you are lucky enough, as I am, to live near the ocean, your kids learn something else when they visit the beach. And that of course has to do with tidal movement. When kids go to the beach and stay awhile, or visit many times over the course of the summer, they see that the tide is always changing and moving. This teaches them about the constancy of change (which you can point out by showing them how animals like barnacles or clams adapt to the change from submerged to open air) as well as the circular characteristics of nature. You might take the opportunity to discuss any number of things. Perhaps talk about how the seasons change, or erosion turns sandstone back to sand, or even how the tide erases all the sandcastles and footprints, like “time heals all wounds.” The possibilities of tide truly are nearly endless. (But please, don’t read your kids the poem “Footprints.” Let’s just give that one a rest for awhile, okay?)
For these, and many more, reasons, consider swimming natural, the next time the kids are complaining about this summer’s heat. Does it take some getting used to? Yes. Are there potential surprises? Yes. Is the water clear, and neatly predictable? No, it isn’t. But it is also for just these reasons, that this kind of swimming is remembered far more fondly than “the pool.” When your kids are one day grandparents, what kind of stories do you want them to tell? The scary ropeswing at the swimming hole? Or the lines on the bottom of the pool?