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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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If you don’t advocate for your child, who will?

This week a friend told me a story about a little fourth grade boy who is being bullied at school. His mother is at her wit’s end. The fourth grade boy is in a combined classroom (4th, 5th and 6th grade). A sixth grader is picking on the little boy – let’s call him Raul. Raul is little for his age. He was born earlier and comes from a long line of skinny children. He’s underweight for his age. The sixth grader is dumping out his lunch when he’s not looking. When Raul tries to retaliate by hitting and calling names he gets suspended.

But this is not where it ends. Unfortunately, technology also plays a role in all of this. The sixth grader bully has a smart phone that he takes to school with him and which he uses on the playground. He also has a Facebook page and he looks at the internet while he’s outside “playing.” The school called the sixth grader’s parents and they said they were okay with this.

I don’t know the details but apparently some of the sites he visits and images he shows around to the other kids and not G rated and some contain violent images.

Who is there to protect our children against other children’s (and their parents’) misuse of the internet and of technology? When did it become okay for children to be using the internet or smart phones during recess? Recess? Really? When I think of recess I think of kickball and dodgeball, not sixth graders passing around their smart phones to young, young children. Recess is a time for our children to socialize and get physical activity, not to surf the web.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a Montessori school interviewing the director of the school to see if it would be a place where I would want my children to be eduated. One of the criteria in my selection involves a LACK of technology in the classroom. That’s right, you heard me. No computers. No iphones. No internet. I want my child to be a child for as long as possible and for her to use her intellect and creativity, not a computer.

Another mother was at the meeting with a similar goal of finding an appropriate school for her child. However, during the question and answer, she asked the director if her 3rd grader can bring her iPad to school. I’m pretty sure my face showed it all as much as I tried to avoid looking shocked. Fortunately, the director politely explained the policy on such devices and said that the third grader would not be able to bring her iPad to school. Outside the mother (who seemed like a perfectly nice woman) confided in me that the school her son is currently attending, and the Montessori we were attending, “needed to join the 21st century.” I didn’t have time to explain at length why I disagreed but I did tell her my views were very different.

So back to little Raul. If I were his mother I would in that school faster than you could blink an eye, demanding a meeting. Demanding to know what the school was going to do to protect MY child from the misuse of technology on school grounds. It is the school’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for all children attending the school. Schools can and do make policies to protect themselves and their students. Just because a parent thinks that it is okay for her son to be playing on the internet and sharing it with his peers does not make it okay for him to be exposing these things to other children on the playground or anywhere else on school grounds. Nor does any of this have its place in a public school environment. Public libraries have restrictions on internet sites that adults and children can view mostly for the protection of children.

Cell phones, ipads, iphones have no place on school grounds. At best they are detracting and distracting from the learning that is supposed to be taking place; at worst they are exposing other children to material that their parents may not want them to see.

Parents must be proactive and must protect their children. Insist on a no cell phone policy at your child’s school. Phones can be left in the locker or taken away and returned at the end of the day. Contact the PTA. Ask for a meeting with the principal. Do what you need to do to protect your child and to ensure the best learning environment possible. Leave parental decisions about cell phones and the internet to the home environment where they belong. Not on the school playground, where they go unsupervised.

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