|If early childhood education was like this when I was small I wouldn't be a kindergarten|
drop out today. All photos: Chad Hipolito
Ask most kids and they will tell you that recess is the best part of elementary school. Why? Because it takes place in the great outdoors, free from the confines of big walls, tiny windows, and someone else's agenda. I felt this way myself as a grade 3 student waiting to go outside and play marbles with friends, and I still felt like this after becoming a teacher.
|A serious student of nature records observations in a forest floor book.|
There were a lot of things I liked about teaching. Being inside all the time wasn't one of them. Sure there was the occasional field trip like voyageur canoeing on a major historical river that ran through town, or going on the year end camping trip, but it was all inside all the time otherwise.
How can kids learn about and care for nature if they are never in it and haven't developed a relationship with the natural world and found their place in it? How can they save nature if they don't know what they are missing?
|Not a desk, computer, or television screen to be seen.|
Forest schools are one answer to nature deficit disorder which afflicts nearly all of us, students, teachers, and parents. The solution proposed in this philosophy is learning through playing in nature. It's kind of like recess all the time.
In my community, this has taken the form of a Nature Kindergarten where the children spend most of their time exploring local forests and beaches. Even in the rain. I would have loved it as a child. I would love in now - these are teaching conditions that would agree with my desire to spend as much time outside in nature as possible.
"Amid the heavy downpours of winter the kids notice the puddles, they notice the quantity of worms has gone up. No one asks when is it time to go inside."
- The Nature Kindergarten's school principal.
|The outdoor classroom is a great place to play, learn, and connect.|
If I had the benefit of this style of learning when I was young I wouldn't have ended up dropping out of kindergarten. My introduction to institutionalized education did not work for me, being the wild child that I was. I found it all far too restrictive, and I resisted being forced into situations that did not feel right to me.
Being in nature is the antidote to the afflictions and restrictions of modern living. Children are just as susceptible to the ravages of a chronically artificial indoor life as the rest of us. Maybe more so.
That is why getting kids into nature more often, as in the forest schools, is so important. It is one way to inoculate our little ones, and prepare them to value, protect, and enjoy their natural surroundings. It is a way to protect them from acquiring nature deficit disorder later in life.
|No blackboards or closets here. Thanks for holding that, tree.|
“When they come home really dirty, that means they’ve had a good day.”
- parent talking about her Nature Children