The Nature of Childhood
An Environmental History of Growing Up in America since 1865
When did the kid who strolled the wooded path, trolled the stream, played pick-up ball in the back forty turn into the child confined to the mall and the computer screen? How did Go out and play! go from parental shooing to prescription? When did parents become afraid to send their children outdoors? Surveying the landscape of childhood from the Civil War to our own day, this environmental history of growing up in America asks why and how the nations children have moved indoors, often losing touch with nature in the process.
In the time the book covers, the nation that once lived in the country has migrated to the city, a move whose implications and ramifications for youth Pamela Riney-Kehrberg explores in chapters concerning childrens adaptation to an increasingly urban and sometimes perilous environment. Her focus is largely on the Midwest and Great Plains, where the response of families to profound economic and social changes can be traced through its urban, suburban, and rural permutations—as summer camps, scouting, and nature education take the place of childrens unmediated experience of the natural world. As the story moves into the mid-twentieth century, and technology in the form of radio and television begins to exert its allure, Riney-Kehrberg brings her own experience to bear as she documents the emerging tug-of-war between indoors and outdoors—and between the preferences of children and parents. It is a battle that children, at home with their electronic amenities, seem to have won—an outcome whose meaning and likely consequences this timely book helps us to understand.
“Some of the most exciting portions of [Riney-Kehrberg]’s book use children’s voices to understand the changing environment’s effect on their world view, which she integrates into her careful reading of sources.”
—Journal of American History
“Contributes to the growing literature on children, childhood, and children's places—in this case, adding a much needed environmental history of children and childhood in the United States from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the twenty-first century.”
—American Historical ReviewSee all reviews...
“Excellent, timely, and important.”
“Riney-Kehrberg argues that childhood’s recent shift indoors, while undeniable, should be understood as an unevenly distributed phenomenon, happening for different reasons and in different forms in different places.”
“The Nature of Childhood offers an effective historical overview of the environmental history, the book ably discusses the historical basis for [the] shift to indoor play and its repercussions.”
—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
“A fascinating and successful effort to put our current cultural anxieties about “nature deficit disorder” and over-scheduled childhoods in environmental historical context.”
“This intriguing history chronicles children’s move from farms to cities and from outdoors to indoors. Riney-Kehrberg uses her sources well to show how urbanization and technology changed the lives of children, particularly boys. Highly recommended.”
“Although children’s voices are difficult to find in the historical record, Riney-Kehrberg does a masterful job of ferreting out children’s perspectives from manuscript sources, newspapers, periodicals, films, and published reminiscences.”
—Annals of Iowa
“A convincingly argued and passionately written monograph that explains how outdoor children turned gradually into indoor children between 1865 and the present.”
“Opportunities to explore and appreciate nature on their own is one of the overlooked issues in today’s over-scheduled childhood. Pamela Riney-Kehrberg’s book puts the loss of these opportunities into historical perspective and will make readers consider why this loss has occurred and whether new thinking about a relationship with nature is worthwhile.”
—Howard Chudacoff, author of Children at Play: An American History
“Pamela Riney-Kehrberg’s The Nature of Childhood is a vital scholarly study of a long neglected and very timely subject—the separation of children from their natural world. Riney-Kehrberg has focused on a major fault line in contemporary culture. Children today and many adults as well know little about the world outside their insulated urban or suburban experience. They don’t know where their food comes from; and they do not understand the increasing concern about climate change or the threats to our plant and animal life as we in the United States continue to consume carbon-based fuels at a prodigious rate. This book belongs on the desk of every serious student of American society and every conscientious policy maker.”
—Joseph M. Hawes, so-editor of A Cultural History of Childhood and Family in the Modern Age
“In an excellent account of childhood and nature, Riney-Kehrberg combines two of the most vibrant fields in history: environmental history and the history of childhood. She begins her book by asking questions about twenty-first-century childrens encounters with nature. Why have children moved from unsupervised outdoor explorations to heavily chaperoned activities? Why do children suffer from nature deficit disorder and need contrived experiences with nature? Why do the most children spend the majority of their time indoors. Using a variety of interesting sources, Riney-Kehrberg traces the development childrens estrangement from nature. She concludes that the indoor, supervised child has won the day and that the “free range” children of earlier decades have vanished from the summer streets—at least for now.”
—Paula Petrick, co-editor of Small Worlds: Children and Adolescents in America, 1850–1950See fewer reviews...