connecting children with the outdoors

Nature. Recently, the idea of getting children reconnected
with nature has flourished. Providing children with the
opportunities to interact and discover what the natural world has to offer is vitally important to their development. Over the past several years, experts in the field of early childhood have written
and studied the effects of outdoor play on young children. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a position statement that young children need to have the opportunity to engage in unstructured play. Unstructured play has no boundaries. Children create their own scenarios and then carry out those plans. It allows children the freedom to be creative in their play without the constraints the often time adults impose, such as stifling children’s creative spirit or being too controlling.
Richard Louv, the author of “The Last Child in the Woods”, writes about the importance of reconnecting children with nature and allowing children to engage in those play experiences. In his book, he describes the current state of the nation as one in which our children are over scheduled and most often lack the time to explore the outdoors. Time constraints are only one piece of this unending puzzle. Many times, adults are wary of allowing their
children outdoors because of fear; fear that their child will be abducted or that they will be harmed. Louv explains that
while there is truth to these feelings, most of this fear is unjustified. Each day, the media bombards us with descriptions of how “bad” the world has become, when in reality the percentages of violent crimes are down nationally. We cannot allow this fear to paralyze us. Our children must be given the chance to interact and experience the beauty of the natural world. In Wichita, Rainbows United, a not-
for-profit, early care and education agency, has thrown itself into helping children become acquainted with nature, both indoors and outdoors. In order to determine how to create a curriculum that incorporated both of these elements, a group of teachers and administrative staff came together to discuss how and what to include as well as what outcomes were related to child learning. The process was long and arduous. There were many discussions and debates. Eventually, through the collaborative effort of all involved, a course was charted.
The group believed that allowing children to participate in and direct their course of study was essential. Investigation of several topics was the decision. Children would have the opportunity to help guide the instruction. Topics related to four areas of investigation were determined: plants, animals, conservation, and environment/ecosystem. Within each of those areas, themes for fall, spring and summer study were decided upon.
The collaborative effort between children and teacher determine the direction for the study in individual classrooms. Through in-depth conversations (what do we know and what do we want to know) and a webbing exercise, pathways for learning are discovered. Webbing is a process that begins with a single topic that is discussed. Through that discussion other areas are identified as important related concepts. The concepts branch out from the main topic, much like the spokes on a bicycle’s wheel. The idea is that through the investigative process, children will discover new information that will cause life-long changes in their understanding. Connecting these topics is the overarching theme of how we, as a people, impact our environment and what we can do to promote “green” ideas and habits.
The indoor environment is only one aspect of how Rainbows United will connect children with nature. Outdoor learning spaces are currently a part of Rainbows’ facilities. These outdoor settings are designed to incorporate various “centers” of learning. Nature art materials, music, messy materials and dirt digging, and gathering spaces set the scene for learning about nature. Children of all
abilities are able to enjoy the wonderment of discovery. Through the National Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Research, these outdoor environments became a certified outdoor classroom. One of the first of its kind in the state of Kansas that creates spaces that will be utilized by both typically developing children and children with special needs. Children enter the “classroom” through an identified entrance. As children cross the threshold, they begin in the gathering space to discuss with their teacher and classmates what and where their plans are for utilizing the various spaces. As
planning concludes, children move into the array of different areas. During this time, children have the freedom to craft their own experience. Perhaps, they will learn how to use different sizes and
shapes of sticks to create a cave or fort or discover what types of insects or bugs are hiding in the grass. The possibilities
are endless and the journey never-ending.
Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods.
Saving our children from nature-deficit
disorder. Algonquin Books: New York,NY

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