The current economic climate has many people anxiously asking “how do we prepare students for the modern workforce?” Perhaps the next big question in the education sphere should be “how do we raise healthy children?” This is understandable, considering the huge rise in childhood obesity, attention deficit disorders, depression, anxiety, and many other troubling conditions.
These are both good questions that demand answers. Popular responses to these questions, covered in main-stream education news, tend to focus on Common Core Standards, school choice, technology in the classroom, school safety, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Lets Move initiative. Rarely, do big news networks run stories about the nature, children, and health connection, but perhaps they should. Often it is local news papers and news organizations that produce articles like this one, shedding light on the importance of time in nature.
Unfortunately all the evidence in the world won’t change some people’s thinking unless it affects their bottom line. These individuals need to consider the negative financial impact of both an unskilled workforce and an unhealthy population. If you’re a business owner that provides healthcare insurance and is troubled by the rise in cost you probably would be interested in ways to save money. What if there was a simple solution to all of these dire problems?
“Imagine a treatment that would improve your mood, make you smarter, keep you healthier and improve your relationships. How much would you invest in that therapy? It turns out there is such a thing, and best of all, it’s free. It’s called “nature.”(Rosen Lawrence, MD) This quote came from Rx Nature and it is a good starting point in looking into the positive impact of free outdoor play on children’s overall health. From there you can access the reports from The American Academy of Pediatrics as well as other research studies that highlight the free play, nature, and health connection.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and the Nature Principal is a leading advocate for children spending more time in nature and for unstructured free play. This is the simple and free remedy to a phenomenon he labeled “Nature-Deficit Disorder.” In short, Louv describes a modern condition with many symptoms all derived from our disconnection to the natural world.
Recent clinical studies support Louv’s findings and can be found here. For additional health benefits of time in nature and free play check out this site. Some Health Care professionals have made the connection as well and are beginning to prescribe a dose of nature for some of their patients. For more information click here. It also turns out that parents around the world agree that children need nature! The Nature Conservancy and Disney implemented a world-wide survey and compiled their research findings into this great info graphic.
As a teacher you may be saying, “This is great, but how will I find any extra time for play and nature?” It’s true, public school teachers are facing so many challenging demands as it is. It is also true that teachers are fighting back and are taking a stand against policies that they feel are unjust and detrimental to their student’s success and well-being.
If teachers see the value in free play and more time in nature, they will find a way to implement incremental change. Even if it means a five-minute walk outside or teaching math with pinecones under a tree. Small change is still change! For some great resources check out this link.
Teachers also have numerous points of reference to draw upon when making a case for adjusting their curriculum and school policies. Take Finland for example. There has been a bit of attention lately on how Finland educates their children and treats their teachers. It is in fairly stark contrast to the prevailing trends in US education. In short, children play more, teachers teach less, and are valued more. I know that was far too simple of a critique of the Finnish educational system, but time is short. To learn more about the subject, check out these links from TakePart and This is Finland.
You don’t have to travel to Finland to find alternative forms of education. Right here in the USA there are over a hundred Waldorf private schools and numerous Waldorf charters. Waldorf education believes in educating the whole child in a manner that involves their thinking, feeling, and doing, often referred to as a head, heart, and hand approach. An emphasis on story, art, movement, time spent in nature and in unstructured free play, are staples of Waldorf education in the early grades. Here you will find a very different approach that has also garnered some recent positive attention in the news. Check out the following links to learn more: www.cnn.com, blogs.seattletimes.com, news.hamlethub.com, and www.youtube.com.
I offer this blog with the hope of getting teachers and others involved in education talking about nature and free play and their potential benefits on the health of children, academics, and on the economy. After all, a child with a healthy body, mind, and spirit is more likely to become an adult who is a positive contributor to his/her community and place of work.
I value all teachers and all models of education be it public, private, charter, or homeschool that seek to prepare children for a healthy, happy, and prosperous future.
This blog is in no way a condemnation of technology and public education, nor is it an endorsement of the presented alternatives. I know there are fantastic teachers and efforts going on in all sectors of education. I believe the best way to move forward is by learning from what works and having dialogue. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Thank you for reading and sharing!