Reviewed by Jennifer Haas.
Angela Hanscom begins Balanced and Barefoot by laying out the current state of American childhood. Without that introduction, I might not have believed that we need more evidence to persuade us to let kids be kids. She then gathers information from diverse disciplines to make her valid, if simple, point.
Kids need to play. Outside. Without constant adult interference.
The book draws on Hanscom’s professional experience as a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of a nature-based developmental program (fancy talk for letting kids play outside) and her personal experience as a parent. She references diverse thinkers, from self-described biomechanist Katy Bowman to psychologist Peter Gray. There are times when her explanations feel tedious, but if structure, direction, stillness and walls have engulfed this much of our lives, maybe we need her repetitive imagery to reinforce her message.
If you intuitively understand the basic need for outdoor play, Barefoot and Balanced might be validating–or it might feel like something that could’ve been accomplished more succinctly in a blog post. If you are a parent or teacher struggling to support a child through a learning disability or sensory issue, you’ll find potentially valuable information and practical ideas. If you are an administrator or policy-maker working to balance competing demands on children’s time, Hanscom makes her case with stories of increased focus and reduced behavioral issues. For me, the gem is the practical advice near the end. If your heart wants to embrace outdoor unstructured play but your mind has stalled making it a reality, the last three chapters are yours.
Though she may not have needed 232 pages to sell me, there is something liberating about having an entire, researched book make an argument for letting kids get seriously muddy.
Title: Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children (Affiliate Link)
Author: Angela J. Hanscom
Publisher: New Harbinger Publications
PubDate: April 2016
Jennifer Haas, BA, CCCE, CD(DONA), is a certified childbirth educator and Doula. Find her at mamamoonbirth.com.