What’s the Outdoor Place in Your Heart?

When you close your eyes and think back at your childhood, what do you see? If you’re like me, I bet many of your most cherished memories can be traced to places in the outdoors. Maybe you remember the creek behind your grandparents’ house where you built dams and caught tadpoles. Or the beach where you dug your feet deep down in the sand every summer. Or the city park where you and your friends used to gather and play after school. Maybe you remember a special fishing spot, or the backyard where you built snowmen after the first snow.

Author Richard Louv often refers to this as the “place in your heart” that you carry around for the rest of your life, and he argues that these places connect us with nature in a positive and irrevocable way. By bonding with nature this way in childhood, we’re more likely to act in ways to protect it later in life.

The place in my heart was the rocky, moss-clad, immense pine forest behind our house in southwestern Sweden, where I spent my childhood playing without adult supervision, long before the term “free-range kids” was invented. I didn’t know who owned those woods, nor did it really matter. Because I felt like every square inch of that magical place was mine. Kids climbing a tree stump

Sadly, many children today don’t have the same opportunity to find these places to carry in their hearts the way their parents did. According to author Lenore Skenazy fewer than a third of American kids play outside every day anymore, even though 70 percent of their parents did. She blames electronics, organized activities, the overzealous focus on standardized testing, abduction fear and “educational” toys for killing outdoor play in America. Whatever the reasons, I can’t help but wonder what the consequences would be if a whole generation grew up to be essentially nature illiterate, or suffer from from nature-deficit disorder as Louv puts it.

Now that I’m a parent myself, my childhood memories are one of the main things driving me to spend time with my girls outside every day, and trying to inspire others to do the same. Sometimes I wonder which places they will remember when they get older. If I’ve done my job right, they should have plenty to choose from.

What about you? What were your favorite places to hang out as a child? And have they affected how you raise your kids today? I would love to hear from you!


4 thoughts on “What’s the Outdoor Place in Your Heart?

  1. K Hunter says:

    I love this question, and I hope you don’t mind a grandma answering it…
    My sister and I just made a journey back to our childhood home in the mountains of Western North Carolina. We drove in the driveway and just sat and let the memories come flooding in. The first thing I saw was a huge rhododendron bush at the edge of the yard. It Is so big we used to actually go inside and play, using the twisted branches as a natural jungle gym. Then there were the pine trees. We used to sweep and rake the needle covered ground under their feet to create make-believe nests, houses and hotels. Then we noticed the little mountain we could see from our living room window, which we used to drive to on Sunday afternoons and hike to the top of. Now I encourage my grandchildren ( and any other children) to use my little woods, hopefully to build memories like mine. My Smokie Mountain playground will be imprinted in my heart forever.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Of course I don’t mind! I believe grandparents have a crucial role to play when it comes to introducing children to the natural world. They generally have more time than the parents to go for a walk in the woods or just hanging out with the kids outdoors. Many of my childhood memories are from places that my paternal grandparents took me to. Thank you for sharing your stories; I always love hearing them!

  2. Kate @Wild Tales of... says:

    This is a great question to think about! I think about exploring the steep hill that led down to a creek beyond our backyard, but some of my most fondest memories are of time spent with my family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I remember swimming in the ocean so much that my chest would be sore at night from all that activity!
    We spend time outdoors everyday, and my 2 year old son depends on it. It will be so interesting to see his reactions as he grows and becomes more articulate…

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Kate – I think a lot of people’s childhood memories involve water of some sort – creeks, lakes, the ocean…I’m glad to hear that your son gets to be outside everyday; I’m sure he’ll thank you later! Thanks for sharing:o)

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