Dirty Hands (Kids In Nature)
Is it time for kids to start learning outdoors?
As adults it’s easy to overlook the benefits that spending consistent time outside can have on our health and wellbeing. Hundreds of studies over the years have linked long term health benefits to regular time spent outdoors such as a decrease in diabetes and cardio-vascular mortality, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and a better immune system. One thing is for certain, we don’t speak enough about the impact nature and spending regular time outdoors can have on our children’s wellbeing, growth and development.
Advancements in technology, the introduction of online learning and a greater access to tech devices, has created a generation of children that are spending more time indoors than ever before.
Maybe it’s time we reconsider indoors classrooms and instead explore the benefits to teaching in nature and outdoors where possible.
In the 1970s, when the rest of the world was moving to a results-based curriculum, Scandinavian teachers saw the positive effects that nature walks were having on young students and soon enough forest schools began to grow in popularity.
Many countries across the world including Australia have become heavily focused on preparing children with academic skills and the ability to keep up with advancements in technology therefore teaching computer skills and even coding from a young age. However, a report by the University of Copenhagen has found that four countries who are championing outdoor learning – Denmark, Finland, Singapore and New Zealand are finding their “pupils’ knowledge can be built up by concrete experiences, interests, emotions and values through outdoor education.
Planet Ark conducted a study based on local and international research and found that teaching outside stimulated learning and improved concentration and test scores in areas such as mathematics, reading, listening, critical thinking, and writing.
In Singapore the idea of these schools began in 1967 as the government wanted to “build a defence capability through education. They wanted to “toughen up” their citizens and create a stronger population, both characteristically and physically. In the years that followed the aim of outdoor learning shifted towards inclusiveness so that each child could develop the tenacity to thrive in the globalised environment.
It’s clear that Australia and other western countries such as America have not placed the same scrutiny on whether allowing children to get their hands dirty really is the key to a rounded and more effective education.
Looking beyond the positive physical and mental effects outdoor learning can provide children, there is something to be said for encouraging our children to develop a love for nature. We can read books to our children, show them movies and share stories about the effects of deforestation, global warming and an increasing loss of wildlife, however, nothing can compare to the touch, smell, sights, sounds and feel of nature on the body. It’s difficult for children to truly understand the impact and loss of the world’s natural beauty, without having created memories for themselves.
Furthermore, a study conducted for the Harvard Health Publishing found that when children are exposed to sunlight it increases a natural rhythm to their day. When the day slowly turns to night children’s brains start to release the hormone melatonin, which encourages drowsiness in preparation for sleep. It’s difficult for this natural rhythm to occur if they are indoors and exposed to only blue light from tech devices for most of their day. Therefore distributing sleep patterns, and their concentration levels the following day.
Despite Australia being known for loving the outdoors the evidence suggests Australian children could thrive academically, physically and mentally if there was a heavier focus on outdoor learning and encouraging free time spent in nature from a young age. A study reported in the Sydney Morning Herald examined 200 schools across Australia and found that nearly 30% of teachers spend no class time outside and another 30% spend less than 15 minutes outside every week. Embracing outdoor learning and time spent in nature could make all the difference to future generations growth, development and prepare them to tackle the future challenges the planet faces.