One of the blessings of my current life is that I live opposite a park. Generally my inner city park is busy in the weekends with children’s birthday parties, but quiet during weekdays, apart from the toddler playground. However during the COVID-19 lockdown it has come alive everyday with parents and children of all ages taking much needed breaks from home schooling and working at home activities.
What has struck me most about this change is the liveliness of the conversations between parents and children, as well as the children’s joy in sharing outdoor time with their parents. Working in my community garden adjacent to the park, I have had many more interactions than usual as families came in to marvel at the vegetables, and attempt to identify them all. The children are eager to smell the flowers, feel the leaves and taste the produce. Given the sudden focus on food shortages, this embodied learning about where food comes from provides valuable and pertinent lessons.
What home schooling has reminded many parents is just how natural it is for children to learn outdoors, through activities like bird and insect spotting, sky gazing, climbing trees or making an improvised shelter. At the same time it has also brought home to parents just how unengaging education can be when delivered through a computer screen and a rigid curriculum.
If we want our children to thrive through their education there is no better activity to do than take children out of the constraints of stuffy cramped classrooms into the natural world. Outdoor learning provides children with ample opportunity to explore, observe and investigate the world they live in. It is a form of education which not only provides vital lessons about what sustains life – air, water, food and biodiversity – but also boosts children’s physical prowess, emotional wellbeing and academic performance.
In a world which is increasingly challenging, children need the multiple benefits of outdoor education and play to help build their confidence, resilience, wellbeing and ability to focus, as well as to develop a “hands on” understanding of our natural world. If we want to help our children negotiate the perils of climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and pandemics, we need to teach them how the world works and how central our planet’s care and healing is for our wellbeing. These lessons feed the innate sense of wonder that children bring into the world, while helping them to mature through developing a sense of belonging and groundeness in life.
Here are a few starting ideas about what you as a parent can do to see your child gets the benefits of outdoor education?
- Check out if there any bush kindergarten or schools accessible for you. Some may even run as out of school programmes. Even a few hours a week can offer valuable benefits.
- Lobby your child’s school for more outdoor education and excursions. Parental understanding and support of the benefits of this is vital in implementing curriculum changes.
- Look for after school and holiday programmes which have an outdoor focus.
- Take your children on outdoor excursions to places which offer educational opportunities like zoos or national parks. Explain the information boards, and download bird and plant identification apps for “spotting” games.
- Check out kid friendly citizen science programmes such as Backyard Buddies you can do as a family.
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