Nature Playgrounds, Outdoor Classrooms, Two Week Outdoor Challenge. These have been some of the growing buzzwords in the culture of early childhood education over the past few years. This push to get children reconnected to the outdoors is coming as a response to the rising use of screen time and fears of perceived risks that have been keeping kids inside. The disconnect between children and nature is detrimental to the children’s physical and emotional health also to nature itself.
Research tells us that time outside provides children the kind of stimulation that engages all developmental domains and the time is now to bring these children the holistic childhood they deserve. Despite nature being a wonderful experience, it is in stiff competition with iPads, unlimited TV channels and smart phones. It’s not that technology is bad in and of itself, but the vast amount of time children are spending sitting indoors glued to screens is what can be quite detrimental.
It’s not news that today’s youth are more inactive, with higher rates of weight-related health issues and can identify fast food logos before being able to name local plants but we do have the power to make positive change in our centres. According to Active Healthy Kids Canada, our preschoolers are doing fairly well in the activity department, with 84% of children ages 3-5, meeting their recommended 180 minutes of active play per day. It’s our school agers that are deeply lacking this kind of time for moving around. A shocking 7% of children aged 5-11 years are meeting their mere 60 minutes of recommended activity.
Although, for us at the Manitoba Nature Summit, outdoor play is about more than physical activity. It’s about a push for deeper eco-literacy for both children and their educators. For young children, eco-literacy means understanding some living systems, like the water cycle, plant growth, the human body or the jobs of bugs. David Suzuki said it best, “unless we are willing to encourage our children to reconnect with and appreciate the natural word, how can we expect them to care for and protect it?” If you’re like me, it’s the perfect curriculum topic, because I can learn the basics alongside the children.
Tim Gill, a child advocate and researcher from the UK was quoted saying, “Children are disappearing from the outdoors at a rate that would place them at the top of any conservationists list of endangered species if they were any other species in the animal kingdom.” As frontline workers with children in their prime developmental years, we have the tools to remedy these statistics by bringing them back outside and kindling their love for the wonders that nature provides. Many children have not yet developed a passion for outdoor play because their caregivers and parents lack a connection to nature themselves.
Here are some tips to connect children to nature in a positive way:
• Role Modeling- gear up and get outside in a variety of weather conditions. Only going outside on hot sunny days sends the message that there is nothing of value in the snow and rain. Ask your director if there is any budget for some outdoor clothing that the staff can share: a rain poncho, boots or a pair of ski pants so you can be more comfortable in your time outside.
• Children have a right to go outdoors, avoid using it as a negative consequence. Too often children who have made mistakes in their day are excluded from going outside when it seems that those children are the ones who could benefit most from the fresh air.
• Move an indoor activity outside, like snack or circle time. This can help give the children the idea that there is more to outside time than physical activity; it can also be a place for calm book reading or art.
• Plan your field trips to free local forests and parks. Bring a snack and let them roam in the grasses and woodlands. Give them a scavenger hunt list, so they are encouraged to look a little deeper into the diversity of plants and insect life. (see our blog!)
The need for nature is clear, it’s preventative and restorative power can help us solve some of our issues in childcare.
For more ideas or inspiration on getting yourself or the children in your care outdoors please visit the following websites: naturesummitmb.ca, childrenandnature.org projectwild.org, projectwildthing.com