Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Back to basics, back to nature.

For awhile I have been thinking about children and adults being able to tinker with their own ideas.  Generally my thoughts have been about play based learning until attending the Natural Phenomena Conference which shifted my inquiry to the outdoor environments that support children's tinkering and learning.  I have possibly written a about the importance of outdoor or nature play on this blog in the past, but more as an aside, now I would like to think about this more in-depth.  So come with me on a journey into looking at back to basics, back to nature.  Firstly, I would like to start with a story:

 Once upon a time, a long long time ago, back when there were witches in the woods and fairies living at the end of the garden, a cowboy hiding behind a bush and an astronaut testing out his or her latest tree rocket,  the children were found outside with friends, neighbourhood children or their siblings while their parents were no where to be seen.
They played contented all day until they  heard the deep call of their tummies beckoning them to return home for food.  They ate, cleaned the mud and dirt from their hands and faces, bandaged the scrapped knee and recharged their batteries for the next day's play and adventure.

Happily escaping the watchful gaze of mum and dad these children set off each day to climb trees, ride bikes, seek out new friends and discover new worlds.  They enjoyed the freedom of using their imagination, creating their own problems and finding their own solutions.  

Children imagined amazing story lines that they acted out - stories of teachers, fairies, bank robbers and police men and women.  They negotiated who was going to be mum, who were going to be the police.  Through this play they grew their  understanding about being fair and kind, without the assistance of their mum and dad.  They grew to understand about what it meant to be a citizen in the world of this far far away time.   And....

they lived happily ever after......

What does this story tell us - we have come a long way from the childhood memories that we once had.  If the question was asked - "What are your most favourite childhood memories?" Most of us would remember back to tree climbing, building huts, playing in or by water, real work outdoors or a range of other experiences OUTSIDE.  

Looking at the value of playing in the outdoors has stretched my thinking about the importance of ensuring children get the opportunity to be in nature just as the happy ever children had experienced.

 I have already started talking with teachers about ensuring children connect with nature, I always start with these words from Guy Claxton: 

As teachers we need to think about the gaps, find the ways we can get children out into nature on a regular basis.  If we focus on the rocks it all becomes too hard and impossible and therefore nothing will change.  Where are the gaps? What can we do?

Below is a list put together by Randy White regarding the benefits of children being in nature.  Over time my hope is to look more closely at each of these benefits on this blog.  

  • increased concern for the environment (Palmer, 1993)
  • increased sense of wonder and imagination (Cobb, 1997, Wilson, 1997)
  • improved ability to concentrate (Taylor et al., 2001)
  • increased motivation for life-long learning (Wilson, 1997)
  • improved personal skills including confidence, social skills, self-efficacy (Dillion, Morris, O’Donnell, Reid, Dickinson, Scott, 2005)
  • reduced stress/greater ability to deal with adversity (Wells & Evans, 2004)
  • increased language and collaborative skills (Moore & Wong, 1997)
  • increased development of senses (Louv, 2005)
  • increased knowledge and understanding of geographical, ecological or food production process  (Dillion, Morris, O’Donnell, Reid, Dickinson, Scott, 2005)
  • increased analytical, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills, and integration of math, science, language arts, social science and other subjects (Bartosh, 2006)

Sir Ken Robinson lists five reasons why taking learning outdoors is a good idea:
  1. Nature is a powerful resource.
  2. Children can learn through practical hands-on activities.
  3. You can tap into children's curiosity.
  4. It is a social experience and children learn from working together.
  5. Learning outdoors is fun.