Branching out: why learning in a natural setting is critical for your child’s development

Branching out: why learning in a natural setting is critical for your child’s development

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Do we live in ‘The Age of Connectivity’?

We have access to more people, resources and ‘things’ in general due to what’s been made possible by the internet and mobile communication: that much is inarguable. But our true ability to connect with each other has – according to escalating reports from sociologists, environmentalists, educationalists and child psychologists – greatly decreased, as a direct result of spending less time outside and more time in.

’64% of kids play outside less than once a week’

It’s an issue which is affecting us all: but it’s particularly affecting our kids. Childhood is a time of great cognitive development and behavioural growth which finds great support in nature – nowadays, according to the Guardian, 64% of kids play outside less than once a week. Mud pies are forgotten, bikes left to rust in the shed and blueberry picking a vague memory. 21% of today’s children have, additionally, never visited a farm – instead, they operate in a world which tells them Farmville is an adequate substitute, and that it’s a better use of their time to watch TV, play on a handheld console or levelling up their Angry Birds score rather than climb a tree.

There’s no question about it. Adventures of the Famous Five ilk are dying.

Nature Deficit Disorder

Our children’s lack of experience of The Great Outdoors is generating such problems, and is beginning to be so widespread, that the modern phenomenon has a name – ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’. This deficit has riddled the younger generation with a series of obstacles largely alien to the kids of yesteryear, as explored in a recent report by the National Trust. Their research draws several, solid links between the decline in our youth’s exposure to nature and the increase in issues such as childhood obesity, mental health disorders, and the loss of creativity and good judgment. According to the Trust, around three in ten children in England aged between two and 15 are either overweight or obese, vitamin D deficiency is widespread (and contributing in an increase in the ‘rickets’ disease) and one in ten children aged between five and 16 have a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder.

These statistics aren’t good from any angle; they’re particularly not good in regards to their intellectual development. Our youth’s early years are a crucial time in which they learn, grow and discover who they are as human beings – a time in which their brains establish valuable connections and habits that could well continue to affect them as adults – connections not easily made in our so-called ‘Age of Connectivity’. With so much time spent in front of a screen (7.5 hours a day – over half of their waking lives), or in grey, uninspiring settings, minds are unsurprisingly more switched off – creatively, intellectually and behaviorally, impacting directly on their ability to learn.

Start with the classroom

Children need to rediscover nature: and what better place to start than with than the classroom, where their critical development is at the heart? Learning outdoors – or, at least, learning where they’re surrounded by nature – doesn’t only help to reverse all the worrying changes that Nature Deficit Disorder bestows, but has a ton of other benefits, too; helping children to develop vital connections between the outside world and their interior mind while additionally improving their cognitive, interpersonal and social and physical behaviour.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to haul all your tables, chairs and textbooks directly outside to teach your kids under the trees (though wouldn’t that be nice?); being very close to the outdoors and filling your classroom with windows is a great and effective start, which can be easily provided by building an eco-classroom.

‘Inspirational surroundings…inspirational outcomes.’

Orchards School is just one of the schools to have tried and tested this with a timber classroom. The results have been very positive. ‘The quality of the building has been matched by the quality of performance by our children’, the Headteacher, Paul Jones, said. ‘Inspirational surroundings…inspirational outcomes.’

Big steps, then, start in places of great influence – and for kids, we believe that’s the school. Simply by moving them to a leafier location, it’s strongly suggested that they’ll understand more, feel better, work better as a community and will begin to be a lot healthier, both mentally and physically. It can all start with a building.

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