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Take It Outside!

Posted by on in What If?
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When we think about young children and the outdoors, we tend to associate the two with playing, or perhaps with the opportunity for kids to get the wiggles out. Maybe we even think of it in terms of break time for the teacher. But in a discussion for Studentcentricity, guests Heidi Veal and Ruth Wilson, author of Learning Is in Bloom: Cultivating Outdoor Explorations, talked with me about why and how teachers should take learning outdoors.

Following our talk, Heidi contributed these additional thoughts:

Both young and old often find inspiration when outdoors. Learning literally comes ALIVE in nature! Outdoor learning experiences spark wonder & communication, inspire students to create novel learning connections, and give children opportunities to extend their learning beyond the traditional four walls of a classroom. Multi-sensory learning experiences, understanding and respect of nature, and broadened perspectives are additional benefits of outdoor learning. I urge all educators to treat the outdoors as an extension of their classrooms if only for the single reason that learning outside provides numerous learning opportunities that simply cannot be provided inside. My advice to educators is this, don’t wait! Go outside and learn with your students today! Take a nature walk, identify sounds outside, observe the sky, grow something, hunt for natural patterns, discover organic treasures. Give your students opportunities to explore, ask, and make connections with their amazing world beyond your school’s doorsteps. Your students will thank you! If you are inspired to discover more about outdoor learning experiences in early childhood education, check out the 4/19/16 archive of #ECEchat on this exact topic.  

And Ruth offered these reasons why it’s important for children to experience nature!:

There’s a “goodness of fit” between children and nature.  We know that children are curious and love to explore.  Nature is the perfect environment for the curious soul and offers unending possibilities for exploration.    

Learning is in BloomConnecting children and nature is good for children, the Earth, and the larger society of people.  Nature helps children grow
 holistically, fostering every aspect of their beings.   Children who spend time in nature learn to love and respect the natural world, and this is good for the Earth.  By caring for nature, a child becomes a more caring person, and this is good for society. 

The best way to help children learn about nature is to immerse them in nature.  Take them outdoors; become explorers and nurturers with them.  You don’t have to be a scientist to help children discover the wonders of nature.  Do simple things:  plant a garden, set up a bird bath, give children magnifying glasses and digging tools, float leaves in a stream of water.  Let children record their observations and feelings about nature in their very own nature journal.  Have them use flower petals and leaves to paint a picture.  And then watch as creativity and wonder take bloom in their minds and hearts. 

To listen to all of what Ruth and Heidi had to say on the topic, click here.


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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

  • Jon Harper /  @Jonharper70bd
    Jon Harper / @Jonharper70bd Tuesday, 24 May 2016

    I agree that children and the outdoors are such a natural fit. I need to take advantage of this more while my children still find it beautiful. I hope they always do. What I love is how they are able to point out so much to us that we don't even notice. Oftentimes we feel as if we are teaching them when I truly believe it is they who are the teachers.

  • Rae Pica | @raepica1
    Rae Pica | @raepica1 Tuesday, 24 May 2016

    Thanks for weighing in, Jon. You're so right to ensure that your little ones fall in love with nature now. One of the (many) things I worry about is that children with no connection to the environment won't be compelled to CARE for the environment!

    And, yes!, children see so much more than we do! I find it so sad that parents are in such a rush these days that they can't slow down to take life at their children's pace. It's just one of the reasons I want to weep when I see 4- and 5-year-olds being pushed in strollers. : (

    By the way, I highly recommend Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods if you haven't already read it.

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