I became a nature play convert and advocate some years ago after being made aware of some alarming statistics. One such statistic states that some of our children are now spending up to 30 per cent of the time that they are awake in front of a screen! When I reflect on my own childhood there weren’t even computers available for use at school (yes I am old!), the only screen we had at home was a television and therefore there was no need to be taught about how to play in nature. When I came home from school we disappeared for a couple of hours every day down to the creek with the other neighbourhood kids to catch tadpoles, climb trees and ride our bikes. This enjoyment of free, uninterrupted play in nature only ended when tea was ready or it got dark.
It seems amazing to many today that we have to teach children to play in nature. In Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, he coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ to describe the cost of alienation from the natural world. According to Louv, children are spending less time outdoors than ever before and it is contributing to an increasing number of behavioural problems. Children who lack time outdoors are more prone to issues relating to anxiety, depression and attention deficit difficulties as well as general poor health and they also have less respect for their immediate natural surroundings.
The planet that future generations will inherit requires them to have more respect for the natural world, not less. Recognising, adapting to and changing the effects of climate change will require us all to have a closer relationship with nature.
In my experience as an outdoor educator, time spent connecting with nature has too many benefits to ignore. Not only does it improve students’ academic performance, but also their mental and physical health, critical thinking, problem solving skills and emotional intelligence.
I have found when we go on our weekly Bush Kinder sessions that all of the children are happier and more co operative with each other. Their play is unstructured and spontaneous and they learn about the environment by interacting with it on their own terms. Observing the children climb, balance, jump run and skip in the dirt, water and mud is one of the most rewarding things you can do as an adult.
All children have a natural affinity with nature and when they learn about the beauty of nature, they are more likely to retain those values as adults and to become stewards of the environment.
Amanda Sargent - Kindergarten Teacher