A teacher recently shared an academic article with me (linked below), and it immediately make me think of an essential topic for my blog, the importance of play-based education, and more specifically here, the value of nature-based education. As we begin yet another academic year with its focus on standards and mastery, it begs the question- where does nature and play fit into the equation. No pun intended, but we, as educators, really struggle justifying time for exploration, time for interacting with nature, and time to “get lost” in play activities. More and more literature indicates that play is at the center of learning. Unfortunately, we still think of play as a young child’s activity, or maybe a much older child’s activity if they work for Google or Apple Corporation. In between, we look at hard testing data and grouping results to give us a sense of whether our child is learning and on their way to the top echelon of higher education. Our current system demands such measurement sticks, many more actually, and it is difficult to justify a change in how we assess learning. More to come about assessment in future blog posts, but here I want to argue the indisputable fact that being outside is good for children. You will find several articles, TED talks, and organizations that do a much better job than I do at making the case for the environment as a key player in a child’s education. Our Reggio-inspired preschool sees the classroom, indoor and outdoor, as a “third teacher” after the parent and educator. Watching the daily problem solving and design-based thinking that goes on outside my office window every day is a testament to how our Little Reds are gaining life-long social and academic readiness skills. The question of readiness for a more structured Kindergarten environment comes up when parents explore our program. As the academic article states so well in the Abstract, students in good academic or good nature-based preschools do equally well, and the benefits of more time in the outdoors are providing psychological and physical benefits for the young child.
I spoke to the girls at Lower School Morning Meeting on Friday about the idea of “it takes a village” to make a difference in one’s community or for the broader world with a picture book titled, It Takes a Villageby Hillary Rodham Clinton. We quietly reflected after the story on a photograph of Greta Thunberg, youth activist and caretaker for the world. My message stated that, while she has learning differences like many in the world, she sees them as her “superpower” and revels in her ability to stay highly focused on her cause. I asked, what were their “superpowers”, and what would they change for the better in the world. I write this because linked below is an article that links play in outside spaces with a desire to work for the greater good and protect the earth that has given them so much pleasure. At RPCS we want our girls to lead for the greater good. I feel confident that those children who traveled the backwoods each week with Ms. Alice or Ms. Noemie will find a way to keep this beautiful earth enjoyable for generations to come.
I hope these articles, and the link to the organization childrenandnature.org., will inspire you to enjoy even more time outside in nature this fall. What a wonderful time to make new promises to yourself and your children that increase your outside “play” experiences. A quote from one of these sources poses the question, “What could our lives and our children’s lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?” Something to think about for parents but also educators.
I hope the fall (and winter, and spring, and summer…..) brings many outside learning experiences for us all.