In the book Ishmael, Daniel Quinn asserts that modern culture’s biggest flaw lies in seeing humans as outside of the laws of Nature. With summer around the corner, it seems fitting to mention a couple of books on keeping children in close contact with Nature. Rather than full-fledged reviews, I’ll just briefly pull out a few benefits mentioned in each book. In Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv explores how children’s play has changed over the century and why we need to reunite children (and possibly ourselves) with Nature. Textbooks and television shows foster an abstract dissociation from the topic, but continual hands-on engagement fosters a love, care, respect and understanding that our environment desperately needs from us and future generations.
My children’s school has a small garden, established in partnership with Groundwork Somerville. Louv says research has shown that in paved and climbing-structure play areas, children establish social hierarchy based on physical competence whereas in “vegetative” play spaces, children’s social standing reflects more value on language skills, creativity, and inventiveness. I venture to wonder if a better balance of types of play spaces could ameliorate some bullying issues? As Louv asks on p. 88, “What happens when creative children can no longer choose a green space in which to be creative?” Louv also cites research evidence that children can concentrate better in natural environments and quotes physicians who have noticed that ADHD symptoms are ameliorated with extended free play outdoors (more so than with organized physical activity or sports).
In addition to the garden, I am grateful my daughters will each have two very worthwhile opportunities to attend Nature’s Classroom through their school, but in his 2004 book Place-based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities, David Sobel notes that one week away seems less effective than an ongoing nature study near school grounds.
Louv calls David Sobel one of the most important thinkers in the realm of nature and education. His slim volume describes several models of educational programs for connecting students to the places we live–both neighborhoods and ecologies–with interesting and far-reaching benefits. In Denmark and Sweden, a new kind of preschool program that has children outdoors 60 to 80 percent of the school day documented 80 percent fewer infectious diseases (colds, ear infections, sore throats, coughs) than children in conventional indoor programs. Sobel also cites study of elementary students in Texas which found that only those in an environmentally based program could transfer learning across vastly different contexts (far transfer), showing that they had acquired higher order cognitive skills rather than just fragmented sets of facts. Interestingly a rural Texas high school, where 91% of students’ parents have not finished high school, uses place-based education and sends 65% of its students to college, include elite institutions like Brown, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. Place-based education is not a new idea. It used to happen naturally of course, and a hundred years ago John Dewey in The School and Society: The Child and the Curriculum suggested that “All studies arise from aspects of the one earth and the one life lived upon it.”
Attachment to Nature is the first prerequisite so in addition to any Audubon camps your children may attend, just have fun outdoors: go to the beach, take a hike, rent a canoe, plant a garden…whatever! Leave a comment sharing your family’s favorite way to connect with Nature!