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Noah's Children: Restoring the Ecology of Childhood by Sara Stein
320 pages North Point Press May 2002 Paperback rated 4 out of 5 stars   

In Noah's Children, Sara Stein introduces us to whittling with wood and her project to learn how to carve pairs of animals and people who will inhabit her biblical Noah's ark. She uses this handiwork metaphorically to take us outdoors to recall past childhood adventures and experiences with animals. In this imaginative way, she tells us how childhood freedom to connect with plants and animals in the wild can buttress later competencies in childhood and adolescence including creativity, joyfulness, altruism ("the hallmark of motherhood") and relationships measured against consistent moral standards. Stein focuses on how these subtle, sensory perceptions of the outdoors emerge from 200,000 years of biological ancestry (e.g., Australopithecus afarensis; the symbolic mind; language) and related physical predispositions (e.g., a child's early preference for the color red; the desire to cuddle with soft, round, furry, wide-eyed animals).

The author looks through the eyes of children (both boys and girls), her reflections of childhood, and informed observations from primate and fossil records to help us understand how children play, explore, expand, build, and rule their world like the Monstera genus vine near Tortuguero. She emphasizes how children get parents to respond to them, and how they reach out to parents to help them understand needs for growth, place, connections, and stability within bounded life spaces.

The author critiques some models of human development, but goes on to carve out an argument against some current child-rearing practices, formal schooling, and specific technological changes that have had unwanted environmental, developmental, and ultimately cultural consequences. Throughout Noah's Children she explains why we need to fill out our understanding of the outdoors, wild animals, their connections with and ecological impact on children, especially for their physical, social, psychological identities and formative moral development.

The author believes apparent disruptions within the ecosystems have disturbed and alienated children which can lead by adolescence to overt frustration, anger, and distrust of adults as role models, mentors, and pathfinders. Here she places the responsibility squarely on parents and concerned adults to nurture, articulate and lay out clear ecological, ethical, and authentic role pathways for children -- paths which offer realistic incentives and transcendent rewards for becoming more mature, responsible adults.

This fascinating book brings enjoyment to read, nostalgia to experience, a tear here, a chuckle and sobering fact there. When all is said and done, the author presents a broader look at nature in the wild as necessary to understanding ultimately moral questions to consider for life in the 21st century. What human rights AND animals rights should become ethics to live by daily? What can we achieve and how can we attain the level of consensus needed to follow these ideals, if we rarely meet face-to-face to discuss our beliefs, parenting, and management practices for the maintenance of all species' lives? How can we reinforce children's momentous experiences for learning outside the classroom yet retain the openness, freedom, joy, energy, and desire to participate in the ecology now and in the near future? This book is recommended to any one wishing to learn, parent, teach, care for and consider these questions. What are the consequences, pro and con, for how we answer them?
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  David L. Johnson, Ph.D./2005 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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