There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather

I recently finished Linda Akeson McGurk’s There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather. McGurk compares the cultural practices of raising children in her home country Sweden to the United States. She discusses many issues including maternity leave, environmental stewardship, technology, natural play, childhood freedom and much more.

My review will focus on three categories: nature, play, and independence.

Nature

Nature and fresh air can be a cure-all for many things. This opinion is embraced heavily in Sweden and it starts in infancy. Shortly after birth, the majority of babies take their naps outdoors in every season. This idea was conceived by Dr. Arvo Ylppo in Finland in the 1920s. The advantages include longer nap times, strengthening of the immune system, and stimulation of the infant’s senses. It is now common practice across Scandinavia.

The Swedes’ strong connection with nature is promoted through friluftsliv; “physical activity outdoors to…experience nature with no pressure to achieve.” Henrik Ibsen popularized this practice in the mid-1800s. Friluftsliv can involve jogging, picking berries, biking, skiing, and much more. This way of life is further promoted by allemansratten. This is the right of public access which allows anyone to hike, camp, forage, walk anywhere on private land save the dwelling itself. “Scandinavians have come to view access to nature…as an inalienable right….” In Sweden, “[f]resh air [has] been established as a pillar of public health.” Being outdoors helps reduce child obesity, alleviates symptoms of ADHD, and prevents nearsightedness and sensory issues.

Play

“Play is a biological, psychological, and social necessity…fundamental to the healthy development and well-being of individuals and communities.” From preschool and on Swedish schools advocate for children’s right to play in natural and structured environments. The “learn through play” concept has been discussed throughout history; from Plato to Rousseau, Froebel to Vygotsky. Rousseau commended play, arguing that children should “stay in that natural state as long as possible”.

“Play in and of itself has a therapeutic effect on children.” Play promotes many skills like decision-making, investigation, abstract thinking, problem solving, social skills, and self-direction. Physical benefits involve improved balance, coordination, and gross motor skills. There are also valuable sensory experiences encountered by play: walking barefoot, listening to birds, feeling a fuzzy caterpillar, or smelling lilacs. These experiences build connections between the body and the brain.

Independence

The term “free-range children” has little meaning in Sweden as unsupervised play “is viewed…as a normal part of children’s growth and development.” Risky play; activities involving heights, high speeds, “dangerous” tools or elements, and so on; is encouraged in their society. Children will naturally discover what risks their bodies are capable of. “The prevailing [American] culture mistrusts children’s ability to asses risk to the degree that they’re missing out on learning opportunities and physical skills.” The advantages of risky play constitute better social skills, physical challenges, resilience, and self-discipline. “Playing outside unsupervised…used to be considered perfectly normal;…has been demonized lately.” Due to unrealistic fears of kidnapping and injury, children today have far less freedom than ever before.

I thoroughly enjoyed McGurk’s ideas on these themes. She provides the reader a lot to ponder through her stories and experience. McGurk offers empirical evidence through her and her daughters’ experiences in Sweden. I would recommend this book to all parents and educators.

One thought on “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather

  1. Excellent concepts, although as a Floridian, the thought of babies napping outdoors in winter seems a little strange. The right of public access used to be a common thing. When I was a child, it was not unusual to find where someone had camped in my grandparents’ pasture and no one minded. Now there are too many No Trespassing signs. I think the owners are afraid of getting sued.

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