As a child, it was playing in the local woods. Now, it’s working in the garden. For some others, it’s part of going to camp or the cottage. For a small number more, it’s volunteer labour abroad or adventure travel.
However you do it, getting dirty doesn’t happen like it used to.
A growing chorus of parents, educators and nature-lovers are concerned about how children today are increasingly removed from nature. Whether the reason is electronics or modern parenting, there is little denying that children don’t linger outside as much as previous generations. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, has labeled the result Nature Deficit Disorder and makes the argument that this is behind some of the major health challenges children face today, including obesity, attention disorders and depression. If that isn’t reason enough, nature packs a powerful learning punch. In addition to all that’s worth learning while outside, research makes clear that learning is stronger if it’s multi-sensory. If it comes with a taste, touch, sound and smell in addition to a look, the memory is embedded in multiple parts of the brain and more secure and readily retrievable as a result.
In the footsteps of Louv, and armed with research, forest schools are gaining media attention as an alternative to more time indoors. A recent article in the Toronto Star featured the Guelph Outdoor Preschool, Ontario’s first licensed outdoor preschool. Children will spend the bulk of the day outside, rain or shine, hot or cold. Under their teachers’ care, these lucky little ones will experience flora and fauna and yes, dirt, all while working on the most foundational skills all preschool programs seek to nurture – language, math, science and social studies, in addition to questioning, curiosity, wonder, imagination, flexibility of thought, and persistence. Evidence suggests these children will be off to a good start with their learning.
Not all children have a forest school to go to, and plenty of great learning can and does happen in typical school environments. That being said, it’s summer. School isn’t keeping children inside. Find ways for you and your child to connect with nature. Get outside. And if you need convincing, take Louv’s book with you. He won’t mind if it gets dirty.
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.