In my April post, I encouraged you to send your children outdoors as much as possible and explained how—even though we tend to associate “lessons” with indoor classrooms—being outdoors, in fact, significantly enhances learning. I thought it would be a great idea to revisit this important theme since next week (on June 5) the whole planet will be marking World Environment Day (WED).
Let’s explore a few other reasons why connecting with nature is so vital for our kids. Besides promoting fitness and making them smarter, exploring natural environments can help children become:
1. Aware & Responsible
Particularly for urban kids, who have limited access to natural surroundings, actively planning for “outside time” is super-important. It’s up to us to help our youth develop an appreciation for the natural world: remember, these boys and girls will one day be the stewards of our planet. Just think of all those future business leaders, urban planners, politicians, farmers, and consumers! It’s our job to make sure that they develop an awareness of their responsibility to protect the environment. We want our kids to grow up to be adults who love Mother Nature, right? How can that happen if they don’t bond with her during their formative years?
2. Calm & Happy
There’s no doubt that we live in a plugged-in world—and that goes for our kids too. Technology certainly has its benefits, but constant contact with it can lead to young people feeling over-stimulated, and at times even stressed out. In study after study, researchers all around the world have proven definitively that being outdoors in a natural setting is excellent therapy for stress and anxiety and has a calming effect on people of all ages. Research has also shown that exposure to nature can be an effective depression buster. So, next time junior has the blues, skip the “cookies-and-milk-and-a-DVD” remedy, and send him out to play in the park instead!
3. Inventive & Resilient
An important component of Montessori’s mission is a focus on environmental responsibility. As such, my school partners with a unique and energizing outdoor education program called the P.I.N.E. Project. Our elementary-aged students, aged six and up, spend one half-day per week adventuring in the woods, learning about nature, wildlife, survival skills, and everything awesome about the great outdoors. This program has tremendous benefits—social, academic, psychological—but two really interesting qualities it promotes are inventiveness and resiliency.
Why inventiveness? Children are naturally more resourceful outdoors: without the lure of structured activities, technology, games, and toys, they simply have to create their own entertainment! And are you wondering how resiliency and nature connect? Here’s an excerpt from the P.I.N.E. website that sums it up nicely:
- When most camps are adding climbing walls, waterski programs, water trampolines, wireless internet and various other luxuries, we are consciously doing the opposite. We are removing material items and luxuries of all sorts… Why?
- Well, which creates a more resilient human being: Giving a child everything, or teaching him or her to make the world out of nothing?
- When you look back at your own life, what events and opportunities/challenges helped you become more resilient?
- Rather than doing things or solving problems for children, we see resilience grow in young people when we give them more questions than answers.
I love how the P.I.N.E. Project’s tagline (Be More, Need Less) handily sums up their philosophy! Check out P.I.N.E.’s programming and mission.
Image: Young Children Running In Nature from freedigitalphotos.net.