It Not "Just Recess" Anymore!

Teachers often heave a sigh of relief when they take their students out to recess. Finally! The children can burn off the pent up energy they had been accruing for the past few hours indoors. But what if we change our outlook on outdoor play time? What if we create an outdoor environment that offered all of the learning opportunities that one would typically find indoors? What if children could run out to a well-planned play yard to find experiences in math, science, nature, dramatic play, water, building and construction, sensory activities, physical development, art and music? What if they play yard developed critical thinking, discovery, problem solving, and cooperative skills? The result would be that we wouldn't have "just recess" anymore. We would have The Outdoor Classroom!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Nature Deficit Disorder?

Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods," caused a buzz of talk about the term "Nature Deficit Disorder," and epidemic that seems to be haunting the children of today. Of course, the term is by no means a medical condition. However, it truly gives a vivid image of children who have been so withdrawn from the natural world that they don't even know they are missing out? The cause of this deficit is directly related to the lack of time children are spending outdoors. Unfortunately, the reasons for the lack of outdoor time are endless (not to mention valid). Schools are cutting out recess at alarming rates in fear of children getting hurt or they are shortening time spent outside because they are frantic about the push to boost test scores. Parents can't leave their children unattended for fear of predators or children getting lost. Families are spending less time at home due to increased work hours and endless time devoted to structured after-school activities. And of course, children are choosing to stay indoors, for the lure of TV and other techtivities is simply too great.  But what of this lack of time spent in nature? Is it truly a problem we need to worry about? YES!!!
According to Louv, time spent in nature has a wealth of benefits. Some of the benefits include better motor coordination, increased ability to concentrate, increased capacity to pay attention, restorative relief from "directed attention fatigue," improved observation skills, increased self-esteem, a heightened sense of awe and wonder, less anger, and increased positive emotions and feelings. That is quite a list! In addition, when children are taught to value nature, they are more apt to have a greater sense of environmental awareness in the future. For, how can we expect children to maintain the "green" initiatives if they haven't experienced their own passion for nature? Allowing children to spend time outside, nurture gardens, and observe wildlife are all ways to heighten their connection to nature. And thankfully, these activities can be fostered in the Outdoor Classroom.

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