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How Nature Learning Nurtures Your Children

Written by Nancy Nalence
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Getting dirty just for fun is one of the privileges of childhood. Climbing trees, scaling hillsides, fashioning hiding places with leaves and sticks – all of these are built into a kid’s DNA. We don’t necessarily think of these activities as a crucial part of a child’s development. But research demonstrates that regular interactions with nature contribute in many ways to learning and socialization.

This hands-on approach is already an established part of our curriculum at The Parish School. With the benefits of the outdoor classroom now more clearly defined by research, we’re increasing our commitment. With our Margaret Noecker Nature Center in progress, The Parish School is creating an improved, campus-wide environment that engages our students in direct relationship with nature that will be developmentally transformative.

Outdoor learning involves children in nature experiences that can’t be duplicated in the classroom. It encourages activity, free play, creativity and interaction in ways that can be guided by the individual child’s comfort and interests.

One national educational foundation has found that regular exposure to nature increases attention, decreases anxiety and combats obesity at the same time that it energizes the child – as well as the teacher. The effect is enhanced learning and an overall improvement in educational outcomes.

Getting kids outside to plant and cultivate, splash in water and mud, and construct their own play structures using materials they scavenge themselves has benefits that clearly support our mission in addressing the development of the whole child.

Fitness and improved motor skills are effects that are easy to see. Along with these physical improvements, a connection with nature reduces stress and contributes to overall well-being. The spirit of outdoor activity supports collaboration, contributing to more mature interactions and declines in violent incidents and bullying. The entire student-teacher community benefits, with one result being children who are more emotionally, physically and intellectually open to development and learning.

Nature learning sparks a whole new area of creativity. Imaginative play is inspired when a child encounters an environment without pre-made sources of activity. What do they see when they look at a pile of rocks or watch tomatoes grow from seeds they’ve planted themselves? If a child needs solitude or quiet space, they’re left to scout out a niche and construct a cocoon from vines or branches or leaves to suit their sense of security and beauty. These are experiences that build empathy with flowers and grass, sky and rain, the cycles of the sun and the seasons. They learn, naturally, to embrace the earth while they are finding their own place in the world. Just from rolling around in the dirt!