I love the idea of having kids outdoors more. In a story in The Atlantic called “The Perks of a Play-in-the-Mud Educational Philosophy” by Conor Williams, he asks “When did America decide preschool should be in a classroom?”
My own preschool years were spent outside (unless it was absolutely pouring rain.) We didn’t have school before kindergarten as a matter of fact. Of course, most moms stayed home—at least they did in Snohomish, my hometown. We played in a sandbox, rode bikes and trikes in the streets, picked dandelions in our backyard and stared at clouds.
As we got older, we moved out of town to the countryside. We built forts in the woods, picked bleeding heart flowers and fiddleheads and rode bikes to pick wild blackberries for our mom to bake us pies.
I’m glad someone has the concept that being outside is good for you.
Here’s some of the article:
Most American kids don’t spend large chunks of their day catching salamanders and poking sticks into piles of fox poop. In a nation moving toward greater standardization of its public-education system, programs centered around getting kids outside to explore aren’t normal.
But that’s precisely what students do at the Nature Preschool at Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, Maryland. There, every day, dozens of children ages 3 to 5 come to have adventures on Irvine’s more than 200 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and meadows. These muddy explorers stand out at a moment when many American pre-K programs have become more and more similar to K–12 education: row after row of tiny kids, sitting at desks, drilling letter identification and counting.
Mention how anomalous this seems, though, and the teachers at the Nature Preschool can only express their wish that that weren’t the case: Why is it odd for 4-year-olds to spend the bulk of their time outside? When did America decide that preschool should be boring routines performed within classroom walls?
Today’s kids are growing up at a moment when American childhood—like much of American life—is increasingly indoors and technologically enhanced. Families spend more time indoors and on screens. Smartphones have warped the teenage experience. Perhaps as part of reaction to those trends, the United States is witnessing a budding movement to reintegrate childhood with the natural world. Nature preschools, outdoor pre-K, forest kindergartens—call them what you like: Early-education programs like these are starting in communities all over the country. The Natural Start Alliance, a group advocating for more outdoor experiences in early education, says that the number of “nature-based preschools” has grown at least 500 percent since 2012.
The ideas that underscore these programs trace back, in part, to a 2005 book by the journalist Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods. Louv argued that American childhood had become overly standardized, overly structured, and overly saturated with technology. He coined a term for the phenomenon: “nature-deficit disorder.” Published just a few years after the adoption of No Child Left Behind—the federal education law that ramped up the emphasis on standardized testing and incentivized schools to focus on math and reading—Last Child received dazzling reviews and was passed around public schools as samizdat. The book helped launch the Children and Nature Network, which describes itself as an “organization whose mission is to fuel the worldwide grassroots movement to reconnect children with nature.”
My own kids had lots of time outdoors in the summer months we spent at the beach. Besides playing in the waves, they spent hours building drip castles, digging holes and fighting over sand. As they got older, they boogie boarded, tried surfing, swam and collected sea glass. I can’t begin to say how wonderful those years spent outdoors were for my kids. They had to use their imaginations and were away from computers and the TV for most of the daytime.
As for preschool, they both went to one but only in the mornings. They spent a lot of time in the afternoons at the park (with me hovering closely) or at the city pool.
What do you think about preschools and learning being out of the classroom in nature?