We had newborn fainting goats born at Picket Fence Farm during the week of Thanksgiving. Baby goats are some of the cutest animals. They are not wobbly and scrawny like calves and are just the right size to be deemed adorable.
It’s not uncommon for goats to have twins, which is what our first mother birthed. It’s also not unusual for there to be complications or for a mother to give birth to stillborns. When you live on a farm or raise animals, death is as much of a reality as a healthy birth. It’s a part of life’s natural rhythms.
That was why I didn’t think much of my husband, Ron, telling our three-year-old grandson, Luca, that two of the baby goats born to our second mother had died during the night. Ron had recounted similar incidents to our four children when they were young–stories of calves, goats, lambs, or puppies not surviving. Often our kids experienced the deaths firsthand. It was a fact you understood as part of life.
As Luca listened to Papa’s story about the goats dying, I realized Luca was receiving the gift of understanding the natural life cycle and not being derailed by it. Instead, it teaches the frailty of life and death. On a farm, just as sure as new life begins, death also occurs. It mirrors the uncomplicated rhythms of Ecclesiastes 3:
There’s a time and season for everything under the sun–a time to be born and a time to die. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
What Nature Teaches
Living on a farm, I’ve learned to value when animals, plants, and nature are within reach. Richard Louv, in his book, “The Last Child in the Woods,” describes the lack of such experiences as “natural deficit disorder.” There is evidence of rising diagnosis of ADHD and mental health disorders among children because so many of them are disconnected from their natural environment. The inability of children fully using all of their senses in nature dramatically impacts them. I observe this with the elementary students I work with.
Nature orients our senses and teaches us through the sights, sounds, and feelings we experience when outdoors. Nature teaches us about life outside of ourselves. We experience this standing in the presence of a large shade tree on a hot summer day or marveling at the changing colors in the fall.
Nature teaches invaluable lessons. There’s an interdependence children learn from something that depends on their care and responsibility, but also mutually gives back. Visitors flock to my hometown and surrounding areas to be among the Amish with the slower paced horses and buggies lifestyle. The Airbnb guests in our home sit on our front porch and watch the cows eat or the goats play in the evening sun. Life is everywhere here. Death is also here as witnesses in the cycle of life.
Natural Death vs. Video Game and Movie Trauma
Death is a difficult topic to talk about, yet many kids witness it through the movies they watch or the video games they play. Death scenes don’t leave a child’s mind. Rather, they are stored in a child’s developing brain. This unnatural exposure to violence and death are one reason a child says they want to kill another student or tells a student to kill themself. Young students can’t understand the depth or the finality of such statements.
In many video games or movies, characters are killed but come back to life again, and the dopamine rush of killing someone in a video game feeds an unhealthy perception of death for a child. This understanding of death is different than understanding natural death through the loss of a pet or an animal. Experiencing death in nature teaches a child how God designed creation and how our interactions with one another affect each other.
We, humans, are not created for virtual reality–but for our amazing life within the senses of our immediate surroundings.
What to Do Next
Ron and I will probably keep animals and a garden around the farm so when our grandkids visit, they will interact with animals and nature as their parents did. But you don’t have to live on a farm to ensure your kids have natural experiences. Some simple suggestions below will help kids learn about creation, themselves, life, and death in the most natural ways possible.
- Let them experience unstructured play as much as possible, especially outdoors.
- If you don’t have a yard, take them on a nature scavenger hunt in your city or town.
- Take them to a city or county park regularly.
- Involve them in caring for your pets if you have them.
- Have them tend to a plant or get a goldfish as their “pet.”
- Plant a small garden or patio tomatoes where they can learn about the growing process and life cycle.
- Let them play in the weather—snow, rain (get them a child-sized umbrella), or let them fly a kite in the wind.
- Have a picnic in your yard or make an outdoor tent with blankets and a patio table.
- Read books about animals and nature.
- Just be outside–doing nothing.
- When death of anything occurs naturally, discuss it with your child. Let them know it is part of nature and the rhythm of life.
Don’t be afraid if your child seems restless or unengaged if you detox from tech and offer more natural opportunities. Give them a chance for their brain and body to be introduced to their environment. Humans are made for nature, not VR or AI. Let God’s processes take shape. Use teachable moments to orient your child to life around them, even hard and difficult things. It frames your values around such experiences and helps your child orient themselves to real life.
And let nature teach. Kids may learn about life. Or they may learn about death. And both are necessary.
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