I first became acquainted with Linda McGurk of Rain or Shine Mamma through my post on the Cincinnati Nature Center. Turns out she’s another Midwest girl (by way of Sweden!) with a passion for outdoor play. While we haven’t been able to meet up in person (yet), I feel like I’ve tagged along on many an outdoor adventure with her and her girls through her blog. For even more inspiration, follow her on Pinterest. Friends, please welcome Linda to The Risky Kids!
Thanks for letting me interview you, Linda! Tell us a little bit about you and your family.
I’m originally from Sweden but moved to the US ten years ago. I’m married to an American and we have two daughters, 3 and 6 years old, as well as a dog and a cat. By day, I’m a writer and photographer, and by night I’m a blogger with a passion for connecting children with nature.
Tell us about where you live.
We live in corn country – rural Indiana – but have big woods literally in our backyard. Being close to nature was a big selling point for us when we bought our property a couple of years ago.
What are some of your favorite things to do as a family?
We love traveling, hiking, camping, snow skiing and other outdoorsy activities, but truthfully many of our greatest moments together happen when we’re just hanging out in our own backyard, digging for worms, playing with the dog or reading books on the back patio. I’m really a homebody!
Me too! As much as I love to travel, some of our favorite days and memories come from just sticking close to home. Speaking of home, what does a typical day in your family’s life look like?
My oldest daughter is in first grade and my youngest goes to a baby sitter four days a week, while I work from home. I pick them both up in the afternoon and after that we usually take our dog for a walk or short hike, followed by play in the backyard while I prepare dinner. During the warmer months we eat and do homework outside whenever possible. Truthfully, if the weather is nice homework is usually the last thing to get done before bedtime. The kids do have some after-school activities but I try to limit them to two days a week, as I’m very protective of their play time. Right now they do horseback riding and tumbling and I feel like that’s about what we can handle without getting over-scheduled.
Coming from Sweden to the States must’ve been quite an adjustment! How did your childhood in Sweden compare to the way your kids live today?
Children in the US are way busier in terms of homework and after-school activities, and they don’t seem to have very much time for unstructured play. In comparison, I didn’t have any scheduled activities until I was about 7, and spent most of my free time roaming the woods behind my house with my friends. The rise of electronics has of course also changed things a lot since I was young, for kids in the US as well as in Sweden. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but my girls have a strict no-screen time policy on weekdays. I’m not anti-technology, but I don’t want them to become tethered to an electronic device and dependent on it for a constant stream of instant gratification. I believe it’s healthy for kids to be bored sometimes, at least that’s when we used to come up with some of the best and most creative games to play.
I agree! We’re leaning toward a no-screens policy on weekdays as well. In an already busy day, it seems to crowd out other activities kids really need, such as time outdoors. I have to ask, are your kids always eager to head outdoors? Or do you struggle with getting them (or yourself!) off of screens and outside some days?
I wish I could say that they’re always happy to go outside but that’s definitely not the case, especially during the colder months. It’s not so much getting them away from the TV, since they know and respect our rules about screen time, but the fact that getting outside in the winter takes quite a bit of work. Last year, my youngest was in a phase where she despised wearing rain gear or snow gear. It made for many long battles in the mud room. I hope and believe that she’s out of that phase at this point. And yes, there are definitely days when I have no desire to go outside either, but I make myself do it anyway, regardless of the weather, because I always feel better once I actually get outside and the same seems to be true for the kids.
That is very true! And as we head into winter, I’d love to hear more about the Scandinavian mantra (and tag line of your blog): “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” Why do you think we haven’t bought into that here in the States? Do we not have the choices when shopping for clothing that Scandinavians do? Or is it more of a cultural mindset issue?
Heavy-duty outdoor clothes for kids are definitely hard to find in the US, but I don’t really think that’s the cause of this difference, but rather a symptom. The love for nature is deeply embedded in the Scandinavian tradition and for many people walking in the woods, along the sea, or other natural areas is almost akin to a spiritual experience. But because of its northern latitude (part of the region is located in the Arctic Circle) the climate is pretty harsh and the winters extremely dark. That means you can either hibernate for nine months of the year, or dress for the weather and go outside anyway. Most Scandinavian seem to choose the latter.
Nine months! Okay, I officially promise not to complain about our Midwest winters anymore! It sounds like your family probably spends more time outdoors than the average family with young children. What are some “risky” circumstances or situations your kids face as a result of playing outside often?
Nature is inherently full of varying degrees of risk. On any given day we may encounter slippery logs, loose rocks, rapidly moving water, bad weather, bugs, poison ivy and more. That’s what makes nature such a great place to learn about risk-taking. The kids constantly have to judge risk in a way that they wouldn’t if they were playing indoors, and they do learn from the experiences. When my oldest daughter was four, she was reckless with a snake (luckily a harmless one) and got bit in the hand. Now she knows how to deal with them. I do try to guide them about things that we encounter, but unless they’re doing something that I think is outright hazardous, I try to restrain myself from saying “don’t do this” or “don’t do that” when we’re outside. Some experiences they just have to make on their own.
I love that you used the experience with the snake as a opportunity to learn. It could’ve easily turned into a fear of being in nature, either for yourself or your daughter. It seems as if fear often impacts our decisions on how we regard or disregard rules and safety issues. We all parent so differently based on these experiences. With that in mind, what’s a common rule or safety issue you won’t budge on? Are there others you happily disregard?
The girls are both daredevils and love water and action sports. My husband and I were the same way when we were young and I encourage and support it. That being said, we always try to keep them as safe as possible. For example, we’re adamant about them using helmets when riding horses, ice skating and skiing downhill, life vests when waterskiing, etc. I’m SCUBA certified and like water sports, but I have a healthy respect for water, so I’ve always been very careful about keeping the girls safe around it.
On the other hand I don’t hover over them outdoors, and I don’t sweat the small stuff. I let them climb trees and rocks, roll down steep hills, get dirty, pick up bugs and use real tools. I think skinned knees, bruised legs and scraped elbows from playing outside are a normal part of childhood, and in our family it’s usually a sign that the kids had a pretty fun and eventful day.
Even though we know that we need to give our kids time for free, uninterrupted play outdoors, it can be hard to get to the place where we actually let them do it. What advice would you give a parent who is anxious about giving their kids freedom and independence?
Take baby steps and let your kids gradually earn your trust. In Sweden this is called “freedom with responsibility” and means that you have to work your way to greater independence by showing your parents that you can handle it. Be prepared that they’ll mess up sometimes – everybody makes bad decisions – but the reward of seeing them growing with the task and becoming independent and confident is totally worth it. I would also seek out other parents and kids in the neighborhood, to build community and maybe take turns keeping an eye out for the kids when needed. That’s great advice.
I love the idea of “freedom with responsibility.” These baby steps to independence are so vital to raising competent, confident kids. I know you enjoy reading as much as I do. Can you share a book you’ve read that really inspired you as a parent?
There are actually two books that have had a big impact on me: Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. The two of them combined pretty much sum up my parenting philosophy. Until I read them I had felt kind of lonely in my parenting experience but they made me realize that there were others who shared my thoughts.
Absolutely! I’ve read them both and they’ve been a big inspiration for The Risky Kids, as well as my parenting. It’s been so much fun getting to know you and your family better! Before we say goodbye, it’s time for one last totally random question! What’s your favorite junk food you’ve loved since childhood?
I never developed a craving for fast food but I LOVE chocolate! I’m a pretty healthy eater but chocolate is my biggest downfall.
I have a pretty hard time turning down chocolate myself! Thank you so much for letting me interview you, Linda! You’re a wonderful inspiration and I’m so glad you share your outdoor adventures with the world through your blog. Your words and your photos are always so lovely!
Are you interested in being interviewed for The Risky Kids? Just drop me a line at theriskykids at gmail dot com! I’ll give you the scoop and send some questions your way. I promise, it doesn’t hurt and I won’t ask you how old you are or how much you weigh. You can see our previous interviews here.