The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.
Think back on your childhood to a place that was special to you. It may be a place of solitude or a place spent with family and friends. It could be close to home or far away. Think of the sights, scents and sounds. Now, is this place outdoors? Most likely, the place you are thinking of relates to nature in some way. I bet no one thought of a classroom, cafeteria or school hallway. Nature and the outdoors are powerful environments that evoke emotion, memory and interest. If this is true, why are we so determined to make children “sit down”, “be quiet” and “stop moving” in order to help them learn better so they can pass a test and succeed in life? Children, and adults for that matter, need nature to awaken (or reawaken) a sense of wonder, excitement and motivation.
So, where has all the nature gone? As we continue to improve medicine, technology, and overall health, I think we are forgetting about the natural component of our lives. As I visited one of my county schools recently, I noticed that they had a brand new playground. It was nice and shiny and yellow…and blue…and red…wait…where are the trees? Where is the grass? The material underfoot was a black tar substance that probably heats up like a microwave in the midday sun. The sad part is that I’m sure the school system spent a pretty penny on a nice, new, manufactured playground such as this. But, did they consider the needs of children to explore and interact with nature?
Instead of spending thousands of dollars on artificial, plastic play spaces, why not create a natural setting that can serve as both a classroom and a playground? Views inside an outdoor classroom show children engaged and interested, teachers involved in and facilitating student learning, and the natural environment being cultivated and appreciated. Outdoor classrooms encourage discovery and inspire creativity.
Our world needs more creativity as we strive to improve the overall well-being of our population and environment. Outdoor classrooms promote imagination and creativity using four things:
Space – Children have ample space to learn, move, design and construct. This doesn’t always mean a large space, just enough to establish a sense of place. Spaces are child-sized and have plenty of “hidey holes”.
Time – Children have sufficient time to finish their work. They have time to think and are not rushed to “just finish an assignment”.
Materials – Materials are natural to allow children to generate and use their own ideas in their work. Materials are easily and independently accessible. They are flexible in that they can be utilized in any space.
Adult Role – Playtime is not teacher break time. Instead, adults allow children to stretch their minds and prompt them to explore and problem solve.
Check out this video discussing nature play. Even though it is presented by an Australian nature organization, it presents a wonderful message. As you watch, what emotions/memories are brought to your mind?