"The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places" by Gary Paul Nabhan Stephen Trimble, Introduction by Rober Coles

“The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places” by Gary Paul Nabhan Stephen Trimble, Introduction by Rober Coles

The Geography of Childhoood is a collection of essays written by conservation biologists and seasoned naturalists, Nabham, and Trimble. These essays explore the needs of children to experience nature firsthand and deliver surprising statistics, such as the fact that more than half of American children get their environmental information from the media. Included in the book are childhood experiences of the authors and their own personal experiences with their own children. They describe how their own children react to the world of nature and look at cultures that are closely tied to nature. This book is an interesting read, especially for those who live or work with children. It can also bring about questions about your own childhood experiences with nature. Many of these questions will remain unanswered.

This book, categorized in psychology and nature, also includes photographs that were taken by Stephen Trimble. The photographs are speckled throughout the book, generally appearing on each cover page of each new chapter. The photographs generally feature children in nature and show their joyful expressions and contemplative statures. These photographs only enhance the inner message of the book.

Personally, I enjoyed this book as it brought up many interesting thoughts about children and their experiences with nature. I found myself underlining and highlighting as I read and contemplating over what I had just read. Many questions were brought up that I enjoyed thinking over. I enjoyed the scientific research and statistics that this book provided and was intrigued with Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble’s findings. As a future educator, I was very interested on their thoughts on public education and how formal education is often thought to be more valuable than personal experience. As a future educator and possible parent someday, I hope to implement some of what I’ve learned from this book in my teaching and parenting styles. Children need nature in their lives and I hope to preserve that belief.

“Simply put, we are concerned about how few children now grow up incorporating plants, animals, and places into their sense of home.”
Nabhan and Trimble, xi


  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction, Robert Coles
  • A Child’s Sense of Wildness, Nabhan
  • The Scripture of Maps, the Names of Trees: A Child’s Landscape, Trimble
  • Going Truant: The Initiation of Young Naturalists A Land of One’s Own: Gender and Landscape, Trimble
  • Children in Touch, Creatures in Story, Nabhan
  • A Wilderness, with Cows: Working with Landscape, Trimble
  • Learning Herps, Nabhan
  • Sing Me Down the Mountain: A Father’s Landscape, Trimble
  • Notes

“We find enormous diversity in these lives, but we also sense some common ways in which wildness-even in its simplest forms-can nourish a lasting attachment to the earth, and, in turn, nurture self-esteem. We know, too, that many now consider children’s experience of wildness a luxury rather than a basic human need.”
Nabhan and Trimble, xiii

Outside Resources

Leaves of Grass



There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years of stretching cycles of years.
Walt Whitman, “There Was a Child Went Forth,”Leaves of Grass, written in 1855, published in 1871



Where did you go


…that was the main thing about kids then: we spent an awful lot of time doing nothing….All of us, for a long time, spent a long time picking wild flowers. Catching tadpoles. Looking for arrowheads. Getting our feet wet. Playing with mud. And sand. And water. You understand, not doing anything. What there was to do with sand was let it run through your fingers. What there was to do with mud was pat it, and thrust in it, lift it up and throw it down….My world, as a kid, was full of things that grownups didn’t care about.
Robert Paul Smith, “Where did you go?” “Out.” “What did you do?” “Nothing.” 1957


The Thunder Tree



…a ditch somewhere-or a creek, meadow, woodlot, or marsh….These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.
…Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches and the files, the woods, the ravines-can teach us to care enough for all the land.
Robert Michael Pyle, The Thunder Tree, 1993



“Going out together to discover new places is the surest way to be reminded that we do not see the land with the same eyes, nor smell it with the same nose. It sings different songs to each of us, and what we hear changes in accordance with our years.”
Nabhan, 3

Thought-Provoking Questions

  • What may happen now that so many more children are denied exposure to wilderness than at any time in human history? -Nabhan and Trimble, Back Cover
  • What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never seen a wren?
    -Nabhan, 96

“The images absorbed from one’s surroundings also became means of self-expression.”
Nabhan, 84


“A provovative and compelling collection.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A sensitive examination of what a relationship to nature can mean for children in the post-industrial age.”
Boston Book Review

“This book is a must-read for all parents (especially those with pre-adolescent children_, for all teachers, and cfor everyone concerned with either children or wild places.”
Sierra Atlantic

“I recommend this book for parents, teachers, and anyone interested in child development. It will stimulate a thousand questions, though it may not answer any of them. It could stir up some fine memories. It may make you sad by its implications. Most important, it may incline your toward matchmaking.”
Bloomsbury Review

The Geography of Childhood is neither doomsday tract nor polemic, but rather an excursion into the natural world the rekindles our attachment to animals, birds, plants, open spaces, and the earth. It will connect parents with the precious resource of their children’s relationship to living things, while raising consciousness of what may be missing in our own lives.”
Salt Lake Tribune

“[The Geography of Childhood] clarifies and enlivens our reflections not just on children and habitats but also on science, education, parenthood, gender studies and much else.”
Calgary Herald

“[Nabhan and Trimble] define in clear prose why children need contact with ‘the wild’ for full development of their understanding of the space in which we live…A thoughtful and thought provoking book that should appeal to parents and teachers everywhere.”
Books of the Southwest

More Books on Nature:

<- Nature & the Quest for Meaning #24 | Nature & the Quest for Meaning #26 ->

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