Education

More Support for the Out of Doors (Nature and Children)

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20 Reasons Why Playing Outdoors Makes Children Smarter

http://www.houstonfamilymagazine.com/exclusives/20-reasons-why-playing-outdoors-makes-children-smarter/

By Stacey Loscalzo

Author and clinical psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison, writes, “Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” It is through unstructured, open-ended creative play that children learn the ways of the world. While playing outside, children explore with all their senses, they witness new life, they create imaginary worlds and they negotiate with each other to create a playful environment.

1. Outdoor play is a multi-sensory activity. While outdoors, children will see, hear, smell and touch things unavailable to them when they play inside. They use their brains in unique ways as they come to understand these new stimuli.

2. Playing outside brings together informal play and formal learning. Children can incorporate concepts that have learned at school in a hands on way while outdoors. For example, seeing and touching the roots of a tree will bring to life the lesson their teacher had taught about how plants get their nutrients.

3. Playing outdoors stimulates creativity. Robin Moore, an expert in the design of play and learning environments, says, “Natural spaces and materials stimulate children’s limitless imagination and serve as the medium of inventiveness and creativity.” Rocks, stones and dirt present limitless opportunities for play that can be expressed differently every time a child steps outside.

4. Playing outdoors is open ended. There is no instruction manual for outdoor play. Children make the rules and in doing so use their imagination, creativity, intelligence and negotiation skills in a unique way.

5. Playing in nature reduces anxiety.Time spent outside physiologically reduces anxiety. Children bring an open mind and a more relaxed outlook back inside when they are in more traditional learning environments.

6. Outdoor play increases attention span. Time spent in unstructured play outdoors is a natural attention builder.Often children who have difficulty with pen and paper tasks or sitting still for longer periods of times are significantly more successful after time spent outside.

7. Outdoor play is imaginative. Because there are no labels, no pre-conceived ideas and no rules, children must create the world around them. In this type of play children use their imagination in ways they don’t when playing inside.

8. Being in nature develops respect for other living things. Children develop empathy, the ability to consider other people’s feeling, by interacting with creatures in nature. Watching a tiny bug, a blue bird or a squirrel scurrying up a tree gives children the ability to learn and grow from others.

9. Outdoor play promotes problem solving. As children navigate a world in which they make the rules, they must learn to understand what works and what doesn’t, what line of thinking brings success and failure, how to know when to keep trying and when to stop.

10. Playing outside promotes leadership skills. In an environment where children create the fun, natural leaders will arise. One child may excel at explaining how to play the game while another may enjoy setting up the physical challenge of an outdoor obstacle course. All types of leadership skills are needed and encouraged.

11. Outdoor play widens vocabulary. While playing outdoors, children may see an acorn, a chipmunk and cumulous clouds. As they encounter new things, their vocabulary will expand in ways it never could indoors.

12. Playing outside improves listening skills. As children negotiate the rules of an invented game, they must listen closely to one another, ask questions for clarification and attend to the details of explanations in ways they don’t have to when playing familiar games.

13. Being in nature improves communication skills. Unclear about the rules in an invented game? Not sure how to climb the tree or create the fairy house? Children must learn to question and clarify for understanding while simultaneously making themselves understood.

14. Outdoor play encourages cooperative play. In a setting where there aren’t clear winners and losers, children work together to meet a goal. Perhaps they complete a self-made obstacle course or create a house for a chipmunk. Together they compromise and work together to meet a desired outcome.

15. Time in nature helps children to notice patterns. The natural world is full of patterns. The petals on flowers, the veins of a leaf, the bark on a tree are all patterns. Pattern building is a crucial early math skill.

16. Playing outdoors helps children to notice similarities and differences. The ability to sort items and notice the similarities and differences in them is yet another skill crucial to mathematical success. Time outdoors affords many opportunities for sorting.

17. Time spent outdoors improves children’s immune systems. Healthy children are stronger learners. As children spend more and more time outdoors, their immune systems improve decreasing time out of school for illness.

18. Outdoor play increases children’s physical activity level. Children who play outdoors are less likely to be obese and more likely to be active learners. Children who move and play when out of school are ready for the attention often needed for classroom learning.

19. Time spent outdoors increases persistence. Outdoor games often require persistence. Children must try and try again if their experiment fails. If the branch doesn’t reach all the way across the stream or the bark doesn’t cover their fairy house, they must keep trying until they are successful.

20. Outdoor play is fun. Children who are happy are successful learners. Children are naturally happy when they moving, playing and creating outside. This joy opens them up for experimenting, learning and growing.

 Bio: Stacey Loscalzo is a freelance writer and mother of two girls living in Ridgewood, NJ. She and her girls have been getting outside to play for nearly a decade.

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The “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution: How One Woman Found Her Lifetime Mission

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marghanita Hughes is a children’s author and illustrator and creator of the award-winning children’s brand, The Little Humbugs. She is a naturalist and founder of the “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution – a Canadian non-profit organization with a mission to change the way children spend their time. Throughout the year, Marghanita runs nature classes for children and “hands on” workshops for educators wanting to learn how they can connect children with the natural world. She strongly believes that all children should be given the opportunity to discover and explore the natural world.

By on June 25th, 2012

The “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution: How One Woman Found Her Lifetime Mission

All children deserve the right to have the opportunity to experience the magic that the natural world provides. I am fortunate to be able to witness this magic every day in my nature classes and during the school visits I make. Because of that magic, my life has been transformed.

A few years ago, I launched nature classes for 3 – 8 year olds. During the classes, we provide a natural space where children can run, play, dance, sing, squeal, shout or be silent in this forest space. They stand, kneel or crouch to paint or create the creatures, birds, trees, flowers and grasses, which are all around us. The children develop a beautiful relationship with Mother Earth. They get to feel who they are, happy and free. Over the past three years, I have expanded the classes, offering them after school.

How did I come to this mission? Throughout life, people come into our lives that help us on our way to finding our purpose in life. Or it may be a book that we read at a particular time in our lives that inspires change in us. One such book for me was Last Child In the Woods by Richard Louv. The very title haunted me. The book had such a profound impact on me that it inspired me to create my nature classes.

Now I believe there is a need to provide a way for people of all ages to benefit from nature in their lives. In Richard’s latest book The Nature Principle, he provides affirmation that adults are suffering from nature-deficit disorder, too, and are in need of reconnecting with nature just as much as children. He quotes Thomas Berry: “We have turned away from nature. The great work of the twenty-first century will be to reconnect to the natural worlds as a source of meaning.”  This is absolutely true.

The Nature Principle led me to add another element to my nature classes: adults. What I try to get across in my presentations to adults and children is that you do not need to be a biologist to teach children about the birds and trees in their backyard or park, or the need to be a life-long gardener in order to grow a small vegetable plot in the school grounds. The simple nature-based activities we teach in my workshops and classes are fun and easy, stimulating the child’s (and adult’s) body, mind and spirit.

During my presentation/workshop in Vancouver for the Early Learning Years Conference 2011, I was overwhelmed by the educators’ enthusiasm and their dedication to changing the way children spend time in their care. Witnessing their sense of awe and imagination was both heart-warming and exciting. It was easy to forget I was teaching adults.

Typically, I start the sessions by getting participants to close their eyes and to take a moment to think back to their own childhood. I ask them to think of their favorite outdoor activity as a child. The room instantly fills up with smiles and I ask who would like to share their fondest memories. Hands shoot up all over the room, eager to reminisce about their childhood outdoors. Having a room full of happy, enthusiastic teachers, excited to take their new knowledge of how to actively engage children and adults with nature, fills me with an abundance of joy and hope for the future. If a teacher is enthusiastic, he or she will get the children excited too.

Since registering as a participant in the Children and Nature Network some time ago, I have watched it grow and blossom into an amazing pulse of creative energy, a network of individuals, organizations and nature groups, sharing and connecting their ideas, dreams, solutions, and challenges: fueling the very movement Richard hoped would happen.

In Canada, I’ve been inspired to start what I call The Let’s Go Outside Revolution, a non-profit organization, providing help at the grassroots level — starting locally, growing organically. The response to has been amazing.

Here is just one example: An elementary school teacher from Vancouver got involved in our Revolution. At the time, she was the only teacher in her school to take classes out into a little forested area behind the school. In December she reported that every single teacher in her school was now taking their classes outdoors.

Yes, there is a long way to go, but a “New Nature Movement,” as Richard Louv calls it, is growing stronger and more powerful every day. We all have a purpose in life. I believe my purpose is to help return our children to Mother Earth and to help re-awaken the awe and wonder in adults who have forgotten or lost their inner child.

I am the revolution. You are, too.

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Are Schools Breaking Children’s Spirits? Life and Learning Beyond Walls

Field Notes from the Future: Tracking the Movement to Connect People and Nature

by Kelly Keena

via ARE SCHOOLS BREAKING CHILDREN’S SPIRITS? Life and Learning Beyond Walls.

When starting out as a teacher, I heard Joseph Cornell say that keeping children inside one room five days a week is akin to breaking a horse.  I’m haunted by that analogy. Our tendency is to keep children in, especially as academic demands only increase. And for discipline or missed work what do we do? Keep them in at recess. Breaking horses.

What would happen if we gave students opportunities to go outside and interact with the natural world as part of the school day? Does a natural classroom give us a way to maintain our students’ inner wildness, as Mercogliano calls it?*

We know that nature is critical in children’s development.  We know that children are losing access to independent explorations in nature.  Schools canprovide children with experiences in nature, and typically, nature contact is not part of our national public schooling agenda.  Yet.  As teachers, we need to give children opportunities to be more than academics

Audrey was a sixth grade girl in a school with a schoolyard habitat that was used as an outdoor classroom. During science class in fourth grade, her attention was turned to a small, hard, dark woody case surrounding the stem of an oak shrub. It was the size of a marble and was in a cluster of five other small round cases.  As she looked to other branches, she noticed that the clusters of balls were quite common all the way through the tangled scrub oak.

Intellectually, her curiosity was sparked.  Physically, she moved in long graceful strokes along the woods, her breath increasing and diminishing as she found other clusters, feeling the texture of them with her fingers, her notebook tucked under her arm.  Emotionally, she felt a sense of excitement build as she realized she had no idea what she was looking at, then wonder as she discovered that the balls were actually wasp galls – hard cases to protect the egg, then larva of the insect. For three years, Audrey visited the exact branch that first caught her attention and taught her classmates about the galls.

Jimmy was a sixth grade boy in the same school.  He was not interested in the woody galls. One morning in class, Jimmy and his classmates discovered a social trail through the scrub oak woods. The three boys crept carefully into the woods following the barely noticeable trail created by local coyotes or maybe deer.  The boys found that the trails wound through the very small patch of woods and that if they entered by the picnic table, they could emerge by the library.  Jimmy’s attention was fixed.

He went inside at the end of class that day, promptly opened his notebook, drew a map of the trails, and wrote a paragraph about the experience. That afternoon, we went back outside and he explored the woods on his own with a video camera.

The footage recorded his decision-making as he whispered to himself when he came to a fork in the trial, his breathing slowing and quickening in tune with the pace of his footsteps in the crunchy snow, and his exclamations when he found something unexpected.

Using these two stories out of hundreds collected during an eight-month study of this public, traditional school’s natural classroom habitat, there is evidence that supports children’s embodiment of so much more than intellect!  And yet, intellect and critical thinking was still very present in their experiences.  Through contact with a natural setting during the school day, the children in 4th-6th grade found imagination and adventure, critical thinking and curiosity, respite and relaxation, peace and calm, and ownership and identity.

The outdoor classroom developed the students’ sense of belonging to the school and to the natural world. The contact these children had with nature was also in a place where the children felt safe to explore at a distance from the teachers that felt safe. In some cases, it was the children’s the first contact with nature in a exploratory way.

If the question is about providing children with access nature, schools have an answer.  Even short, unstructured time in the schoolyard habitat with the sounds, textures, smells, space, and sensations showed value. The children were awake to the world, expanded to their own possibilities of their sensory channels, alive with curiosity and calm.  What a gift that schools can provide for an area of childhood that is vanishing at an alarming rate and at the same time, allow for children to feel the sense of wonder and joy in becoming familiar with the natural world.

*Mercogliano, C. (2007). In defense of childhood: Protecting kids’ inner wildness. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Photos by Kelly Keena

Additional Resources

C&NN Report: Children’s Contact with the Outdoors and Nature: A Focus on Educators and Educational Settings

The “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution: How One Woman Found Her Lifetime Mission

The Benefits and Joys of the School Garden

A New Role for Landscape Architecture

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Nature’s Playground
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Educational Policy: Banning Critical Thinking

Teacher Tom: None Of This Serves Children

http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2012/07/none-of-this-serves-children.html#.T_pVmsnuUvk.wordpress

The Texas Republican Party recently released it’s 2012 party platform. Under the “education” part of the document they called for an increase in the use of corporal punishment, opposition to mandatory preschool and kindergarten, and support for legislation that would ban the children of undocumented residents from public schools, all of which flies in the face of scientific evidence and common sense, but perhaps the craziest thing of all:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills . . . critical thinking skills and similar programs . . . which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

The Center for American Progress, a major progressive think tank, recently released a report entitled Increasing the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Existing Public Investment in Early Childhood Education, in which they seem to be calling for us to double-down on the corporate reform education policies of the past two presidential administrations by bringing standardized testing, the de-professionalization of teaching, and federally mandated curricula, all with an economic focus, into kindergarten and preschool classrooms. It’s a report written by two economists and the “money quote” (pun intended) is from yet another economist named James Heckman, this one with a Nobel Prize no less, who warn us once more, breathlessly, that the Chinese are beating us! The report writers say that they “assembled a number of highly respected experts in the early childhood education field, who are listed in the front of this report,” but this reporter has been unable to locate said list anywhere on their website. I really would like to see which “experts” signed off on this nonsense.
 
There are few things upon which the right and left agree in this country, but one of them is to be dead wrong about education policy.
 
But, you know, we keep hearing how both sides are working hand-in-hand on this, in a bi-partisan manner, to bring us schools with lots of tests that focus on “trivia” instead of critical thinking skills, a top-down curricula that mandates what children learn rather than on teaching them how to learn, young, cheap teachers who could have just as easily have been “trained” to flip burgers, and a carrot-and-stick approach to keeping everyone in line.
 
Oh, and spankings will be administered until teh children haz learned.
 
None of this, from either the left or right can be supported by what research tells us about how children learn, brain development, or best practices. None of this supports the purpose of public education in a democracy, which must be civic, not economic. None of this serves children.
 
The good news, I think, is that our political system is so dysfunctional right now that the two sides, even though they seem to agree on all their key points, will still cancel one another out. The bad news is that this means yet another generation of students, parents and teachers stuck making lemonade from lemons. I could almost live with this situation, one in which those of us most invested (those same students, parents, and teachers) are sort of left alone to cobble together a high quality education for our kids, but now that corporate interests have focused in on the pot of gold represented by the nation’s collective education budgets, I don’t think they’re going to stop, unless we stop them, until they’ve privatized the whole thing, turning our children into “human resources” in their for-profit education schemes. Money, as it usually does, might well trump ideology in this case. Check out what US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss had to say in the Harvard Business Review about proposed new national education standards, which she admits will do nothing to improve learning:

“(Common Core) radically alters the market . . . Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.”

So as you can see, it’s a sort of win-win for right, left and corporations, leaving students, parents and teachers with even smaller, harder and more sour lemons with which to work.

 To take a survey of the media landscape, you would think there is very little opposition to what’s going on in the nation’s capitol or in state houses around the country, but you would be wrong. You rarely see “our side,” the side not championed by either of the two political parties, represented in the mainstream media exactly because it is a well-known “fact” that if a point of view is not held by Democrats or Republicans, then it is too fringe-y for serious discussion.  
 
Diane Ravitch, an education historian and author, who was appointed to high level education department positions by presidents of both political parties, is one of the few voices regularly included in the national debate. I admire Ms. Ravitch immensely, as I do other champions for real education reform such as Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, EdWeek bloggers Anthony Cody and Nancy Flanagan, founder of Parents Across America and Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, director of Race To Nowhere Vicki Abeles, teacher and blogger Dave Reber, and the good folks at both the Rethinking Schools and Shanker Blogs.
 
There are hundreds of other voices out there as well, many probably more worthy of my list, doing the good work even if we rarely hear their voices outside the blog-o-sphere. And it’s adding up. Arne Duncan has complained about the “bloggers” who are opposed to his plans. Bill Gates (the most prominent of the corporate reformers) has called us his “enemies.” Despite our invisibility on the national stage we are being at least somewhat effective in pushing back as a grassroots movement outside the confines of the two-party system, but so far they see us as more of a nuisance than a real political force.
 
There are a lot important issues that need our attention, I know, but this is a biggie. Without higher order thinking skills we’re lost. This is a call to get involved, not just for your children, but for the future of America. Read these writers, write those letters, run for office, let your representatives know you will vote on education issues. We can’t let the spankers and the testers win.

Nature Play as an Everyday Joy of Childhood? For Kids, Frequency Requires Proximity

NATURE PLAY AS AN EVERYDAY JOY OF CHILDHOOD?
 http://childrenandnature.ning.com/group/natureclubsforfamilies/forum/topics/nature-play-as-an-everyday-joy-of-childhood-for-kids-frequency

Most of us who enjoyed nature play in our childhoods realize that it didn’t matter if we had a pristine patch of forest to play in or just a couple of vacant city lots.  Either way, there were endless things to find, explore, capture, imagine, and play with.  But what was important is that these places were right there, within our walking/running/biking distance.  No car, no parent, and no schedule were needed to get outside and play in nature.

The children and nature movement is fostering wonderful new ways for kids to play outdoors, such as designed natural playspaces, family nature clubs, and naturalized schoolyards.  These and other similar efforts are valuable steps – not only for the kids, but for parents who are reconsidering their children’s indoor, nature-deprived lives.  Yet most of these new approaches are challenged in one vital dimension:  frequency

When Dr. Louise Chawla (University of Colorado) researched influential childhood experiences in nature, she found that, “The special places that stood out in memory, where people formed a first bond with the natural world, were always a part of the regular rhythm of life.”  Those powerful experiences didn’t typically come from annual family camping trips, but rather from day-after-day, week-after-week events in children’s lives.  Actually, no special research is needed to realize that frequent childhood activities have more lasting impact than ephemeral ones.  Practicing the violin once a month is not a very effective strategy!  Is it better than nothing?  Perhaps – but only if you set your sights very low.

The same equation applies to nature play.  If we want it to have maximum impact, then it needs to be “part of the regular rhythm of life.”  It seems unlikely that we can achieve this solely through monthly meet-ups or widely scattered playspaces – strategies that require parents, cars and calendars, and thus compete for time within families’ hectic schedules.  Are these approaches valuable?  Absolutely!  Are they sufficient?  Unlikely.

If we really want to power-up nature-based play, it needs to be available where children can enjoy it almost any day, without adult involvement or confining schedules.  For most kids this means either home yards or neighborhood parks – and (sadly) only the former is likely to alleviate the fears of 21st-century American parents.  Can a typical quarter-acre suburban yard actually support nature play?  Or a city lot half that size?  Or an apartment courtyard?  The answer is yes, especially for kids of about two to eight years old.  Younger children’s worlds are much smaller than those of adults.  They don’t need sprawling spaces or eye-popping vistas.  Their attention naturally focuses on tiny and manipulable pleasures:  on dandelions rather than rose gardens; on earthworms rather than herds of bison; on a patch of dirt to dig in rather than a yawning cave to explore.

Unfortunately, the typical American yard is no haven for nature play.  Good nature play requires “rich” settings – that is, a diversity of plants, animals, and landforms that create endless opportunities for discovery and engagement.  Turf grass lawns, solitary shade trees, and a few neatly trimmed shrubs do not meet these criteria.  However, even the sparest yard can be augmented for good nature play with a little thought, a dose of elbow grease, and much less money than what those elaborate backyard play sets cost.

The key is to create yards with a “density of diversity:” a collection of micro-habitats that will harbor lots of natural discoveries and delights throughout the seasons.  These micro-habitats might include a shrub thicket, a wildflower garden, a jumbled pile of boulders, a tiny garden pond, a butterfly garden, a berry patch, a mass of tall native grasses, or even a space allowed to just grow into whatever comes up!  Once you’ve established a few of these tiny worlds in your yard, you can enhance them with a digging pit or a giant dirt pile, a couple of large logs, bird and toad houses, a bench or hammock in a quiet nook, and plenty of “loose parts” to nurture creative and constructive play.  These loose parts can be branches, driftwood, cattails, bamboo poles, boards, tree cookies (log slices), tarps, seed pods, pine cones, large boxes, hay bales, and whatever else you can readily scrounge up.

By focusing your primary efforts on creating multiple micro-habitats, you will ensure authentic nature play:  interactions with real nature, in all of its beauty, wonder, unpredictability, and adventure.  Manufactured outdoor play components – like the plastic play equipment designed to look natural – do not create the same connections to the natural world.  Kids can’t peel the bark off a plastic log to find rollie-pollies, and they won’t find monarch caterpillars feeding on fiberglass leaves.  In fact, one big, over-grown wildflower bed — or a patch of flowering shrubs laced with tiny paths — will bring more lasting and real nature play to your kids than will any human-made product! 

Note, though, that nature playscapes are more “messy” than most home landscaping, so you may want to keep much of your nature play zone in the backyard where it won’t generate hostility from neighbors who think front yards should look like golf greens.  However, certain nature play features are usually “dressy” enough to bring into front yards, like butterfly gardens, boulders, and herb gardens.  And by highlighting street-side nature play, you may encourage other local parents to think more about “kid-scaping” their own yards.  Nature play zones get better and better when more of your neighbors imitate and add to your own efforts!

None of these steps towards home-based nature play require great knowledge, training, or expense.  They can be implemented bit by bit, and your plans can be in constant flux as you discover what your kids and their friends most enjoy.  The ultimate goal is to create enough nature play “critical mass” so that your kids are excited to play in their own yards — day after day, and whenever they wish.  Then nature play will be a regular joy for your children; then it will achieve the frequency needed to influence and benefit them for decades to come! 

A few suggested resources with ideas to support home-based nature play:

– “A Parents’ Guide to Nature Play” from Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood: http://www.greenheartsinc.org/Parents__Guide.html

– National Wildlife Federation’s guidance on creating backyard wildlife habitats:www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Outdoor-Activities/Garden-for-Wildlife/Crea…

“Nature Play:  Simple and Fun Ideas for All” from Forestry Commission England:

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-7LSEHW

A Child’s Garden:  Enchanting Outdoor Spaces for Children and Parents, by Molly Dannenmaier

Plants for Play:  A Plant Selection Guide for Children’s Outdoor Environments, by Robin Moore

Natural Playscapes:  Creating Outdoor Play Environments for the Soul, by Rusty Keeler

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