Simplicity Parenting Course for Parents
“Today, the three major environmental challenges of our time are climate change, the biodiversity collapse, and the disconnect between children and nature.”
—Richard Louv, July 2013
Todays culture of “more” has put families under extreme pressure as they struggle to cope with the issues of excessive consumption, marketing to children, increased time utilizing screen technology, strong influence of the media, over-scheduling, strong emphasis on structured “learning opportunities” at an early age, and devaluing of free play. These issues not only cause a barrier to connecting children with nature, but also have a profound impact on the health of children, families, communities, and the planet. How do we take action against these issues in order to reconnect children to the natural world and address the cultural norms that are wreaking havoc on our planet?
To address these issues we need to create an environmentally literate society that is motivated to take action. Interviews with environmental leaders by Chawla (1999) examined the sources of their commitment to action. Her study ranked the sources of commitment, with the top five as follows: 1) regular experience in natural areas, 2) family role models, 3) participation in environmental organizations, 4) negative experiences (habitat destruction, pollution of a special place), and 5) educational experiences. It is interesting to note that outdoor experience and family role models ranked highest and environmental education ranked fifth. Chawla states:
“The special places that stood out in memory, where people formed a first bond with the natural world, were always part of the regular rhythm of daily life: the garden or nearby lake or forest where people played as children, the summer cabin or grandparents’ farm that was visited repeatedly in the course of growing up, favorite hiking trails during the university years. In these places, people became comfortable with being out in the natural world… .”
She goes on to write:
“For these people who had opportunities to feel happy, free, and engaged in natural areas, family role models drew their attention to what they were experiencing and affirmed its value.”
This does not discount the importance of a strong environmental education program within schools and nature centers—indeed it is more important now than ever. However, considering the important role outdoor experiences and family role models play in the development of environmentally active citizens, environmental educators should begin “seeking ways to foster the out-of-school experiences that figure so saliently in environmentally committed people’s memories.” (Chawla, 1999).
One Solution: Simplicity Parenting
How do we encourage these experiences within families when there are so many barriers? Simplicity Parenting is one solution. The Simplicity Parenting program provides parents with the knowledge, awareness, and skills necessary to address these barriers and make small, sustainable changes within the home (Payne, 2009). The course, geared for 12-16 parents of all ages, consists of 6 workshops and a final celebration:
Workshop One: Why Simplify?
“Simplification is about stripping away the distractions that threaten connection.”
—Kim John Payne
The first workshop begins with an overview of the course and the main issues. Parents are provided an opportunity to discuss and reflect upon family values, their intentions for the course, and the benefits of doing the hard work of simplifying family life.
Workshop Two: Transforming the Home Environment
Within this workshop we examine both the impact having too much stuff has on children and families and the benefits of having and consuming less. We discuss strategies on how to declutter and clear out excessive toys, books, and clothes, and how to take a critical look at cultural pressures, advertising, and marketing. As Mary Pipher said, “Stories told by the media induce children to want good things instead of good lives.”
Workshop Three: Family Rituals, Rhythms and Celebrations
Week three takes a look at the daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms within the home. Discussions include a reflection on favorite memories from childhood (family rituals, celebrations, family vacations, etc), as well as how to smooth out trouble areas within their days and weeks.
“Meaning hides in repetition: we do this every day or every week because it matters. We are connected by this thing we do together. We matter to one another. In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the splashy, blow-out trip to Disneyland but the common threads that run throughout and repeat: the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime, Saturday morning pancakes.”
—Kim John Payne, page 98 Simplicity Parenting
Workshop Four: Time, Creativity, and Over-scheduling
During this gathering parents examine the impact over-scheduling has on children and families. Parents take a critical look at their family’s typical weekly schedule and discuss the impact the lack of free play has on child development. This workshop also includes the benefits of boredom and how to conduct boredom training with their children.
Workshop Five: Technology and the Media
Within the technology and media workshop we discuss the impact excessive screen use and media exposure has on children. Parents calculate the amount of time their children spend with screen technology and take a critical look at how much is necessary. This workshop also takes a look at the impact age inappropriate media has on a child’s development and wellbeing.
“Children come to know a tree by peeling its bark, climbing its branches, sitting under its shade, jumping into its piled-up leaves. Just as important, these firsthand experiences are enveloped by feelings and associations–muscles being used, sun warming the skin, blossoms scenting the air. The computer cannot even approximate any of this.” –Lowell Monke
Workshop Six: Children & Nature
The importance of regular free time in nature has on a child’s health and wellbeing is the focus of the sixth workshop. This gathering also addresses common barriers, tips and techniques for taking children outside in all whether, how to incorporate nature into the home (both inside and outside), as well as other useful resources. It then pulls together the topics covered over the previous weeks to address how to overcome their own barriers in order to incorporate nature into their family life.
The final celebration gives parents an opportunity to celebrate the changes they have made and develop deeper friendships with others in the class in order to build a support network with each other. The final celebration includes the entire family and takes place outdoors at a park with a kid-friendly trail.
Can Simplicity Parenting Make an Impact?
One of the highlights of the Simplicity Parenting program is the Simplicity Parenting change process. This process goes beyond awareness and helps parents develop and repeatedly practice the skills necessary to bring about sustainable change at home. Also, through a variety of activities, readings and reflections, the course develops many of the variables that lead to environmentally responsible behavior, including attitude, locus of control, personal responsibility, action skills, knowledge of issues, and intention to act (Hungerford & Volk, 2001).
Working under the guidance of my graduate advisor at UW Stevens Point I plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the Simplicity Parenting program in bringing about sustainable changes that reconnect families to nature. Through the use of both questionnaires and interviews I plan to assess the effectiveness and use the feedback for further program improvement and development.
As a certified Simplicity Parenting coach, experienced secondary science educator, environmental education graduate student, Waldorf parent of three children, and nature enthusiast, I have experienced firsthand the myriad of benefits Simplicity Parenting and regular free play in nature has on the overall wellbeing of children and families. My hope is to develop a strong and effective program that can be shared with schools and organizations throughout the area and beyond.
The Simplicity Parenting course provides parents with the opportunity to examine the major child-rearing issues that are impacting the overall health and wellness of children, families, and the planet. By working with parents we will improve our ability to reconnect children to the earth, strengthen our families and communities, and create an environmentally literate society.
Each Simplicity Parenting gathering is concluded by a visualization of what is possible. I would like to conclude in a similar manner:
- Your home with space and time for childhood—and with time for each other every day.
- Your home as a place where play and exploration are allowed and honored.
- Your child being able to live deeply into the “now” of play, rather than often eyeing what is next.
- The opportunities for connection and moments of pause increasing as daily and weekly rhythms take hold.
- Your family’s sense of identity growing as you share beloved activities and rituals together.
- What your child can do with the occasional gift of boredom.
- What can develop when a child has time to dream: the joys of anticipation and a greater depth of meaning and feeling.
- What a lifelong gift you give by gently insisting on, and modeling, the importance of down-time and balance in daily life.
- How human engagement and connection with nature —rather than “entertainment”—will feed your children’s imagination and enrich their play.
- A nature rich future where we live in harmony with the natural world and recognize the restorative power time in nature has on our soul.
Interested in learning more? Would you like to host a Simplicity Parenting course at your school or organization? Find more information here!
Chawla, L. (1999). Life paths into effective environmental action. The Journal of Environmental Education. 31 (1), 15-26.
Hungerford, H., Volk, T. (2001). Changing Learner Behavior through Environmental Education. Essential Readings in Environmental Education. Stipes, Champaign, IL.
Louv, R. (2013, July 2). Using the bully pulpit to connect people to nature: Looking ahead with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.childrenandnature.org/2013/07/02/using-the-bully-pulpit-to-connect-people-to-nature-looking-ahead-with-u-s-secretary-of-the-interior-sally-jewell/
Payne, Kim John. (2009). Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. New York, NY: Random House.
Payne, K. J. (2010). Simplicity Parenting Group Leader Manual and Parent Handbook. Northhampton, MA: Center for Social Sustainability.