A few months ago I found myself in a parent information evening, discussing our nature-based practice with new families and families transitioning from the younger room. Across my centre, I have the reputation for being the ‘bush lady' and drive much of our nature program, a fact which had not been lost on these parents.
“So why do you love the bush so much anyway?” an inquisitive parent questioned.
I began to explain, and I’m sure I did a good job. However later that night I continued to feel like I could have explained myself with more clarity and perhaps I could have shared more of my passion and knowledge with the group as when put on the spot I felt like I didn't do the question justice.
Months later, I was still thinking about that answer. So here I am, putting onto paper the reasons I love the bush so much….
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed,
And to have my senses put in tune once more.”
Nature is a natural anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medicine. Many studies have been undertaken on the use of nature as a natural cure for the increasing amounts of children diagnosed with psychological problems (Louv, 2015). In an over-medicated world, nature is one natural cure we can’t ignore. Not too long ago children were raised on the land, they grew up with an innate connection to nature, as their senses were deeply connected to the environment. These days as most children live in suburbia, they are more connected to the traffic in the city than they are to the changing seasons or to the life cycle of a butterfly.
Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have published yet another study about the effects nature has on the mental health of a person, even right through to becoming an adult. This study took data from 1985 until 2013, from one million Danish residents. The findings of this study were astronomical, showing that even after taking into account varying factors of social class, family history of mental illness, living location and many more factors; there was still a 55 per cent lower chance of someone developing mental health issues as an adult if they had grown up around green spaces.
I see the effects nature has on the senses each and every day. From the young babies who explore nature with every sense they have, to the eldest of our children whose ecological literacy now surpasses my own. I see the deep connection they have to the natural land by the way they treat the tiniest of bugs, to the way they explain the colours of a leaf. This connection supports them in regulating their emotions and developing resilience and confidence. When in the bush, each child can receive exactly what they need. A quiet space for pondering life, or the space to run, jump and play, the bush provides it all.
“Children cannot bounce off the walls,
If we take away the walls.”- Erin Kenny.
When working with many young children, often in enclosed spaces, it’s not hard to picture exactly how busy and crazy some of our days get. However, when we have days where the children are climbing the walls, and even the yard feels too small, the bush is always the answer.
In the bush, the busy children can be busy, without the overbearing adult following them around to ensure they aren't jumping on the furniture or destroying other children's games. Year after year, there is always going to be a group of children that are very physically busy and appear to “bounce off the walls”. These are the children whose names appear on the roll call and make you dread a rainy day. These are the children that, when placed in the wrong environment, end up with the bad reputations and the negative labels. Many of you would have seen this kind of child before, others may even have one in their own house.
The bush changes the way we see these busy children. By giving them an environment and the space that sets them up for success, these children’s play nearly always changes from destructive, pack like play, to imaginative, creative, collaborative play. The bush gives them the freedom to play games that are inappropriate within the fence line due to safety, such as stick fights and chasings. However, in the bush, children are provided with endless provocations for their play, leading them to be more creative and need less adult interaction or interference. Some studies undertaken in Denmark even showed that when observing children in static, man-made, playgrounds it was those who were physically bigger who took control of the play. However, when observing children who played in natural settings their play changed. It was more social, fantasy based and complex. Here, it was those who showed high language skills, creativity and inventiveness that emerged as the leaders.
In this day and age where every playground is static equipment and children spend so much of their time walking on concrete in over populated areas, nature provides what children need most in their physical development. Nature is ever changing, the ground uneven, tree branches curve up and down and change in strength and width. The physical challenges nature provides allows children to experience a world of change and learn to cope with the unexpected and the aspects of life that are uncontrollable and wild.
"Since about 1955 ... children's free play has been continually declining, at least partly because adults have exerted ever-increasing control over children's activities," Peter Gray
It is through children’s independent play that they first learn vital skills that they will use their entire lives. In play, children learn how to make decisions, solve problems, use higher order thinking, develop self-control, follow rules and take risks. So what happens if children don't learn these skills?
Well, these skills are what children use as a basis for learning. Particularly in the 21st century, as society moves away from rote learning and into an era of self-guided inquiry, children have to be able to take risks in their learning and solve their own problems. Without knowing how to take risks, children are too scared to put their hand up in fear of getting the answer wrong. They are too scared to try anything new and their ability to interact with others is diminished.
Nature gives children the opportunities to learn these skills at every turn. In fact, recently I was visiting a primary school with a very high ratio of children with additional needs or traumatic backgrounds. Within this school, they had begun not only taking the lower primary out into nature but the upper primary too. They had identified that particularly with the upper primary, something had gone wrong for these children along the way. Their love of learning was extinguished and the children's social skills and ability to cope with the unexpected were practically non-existent. These teachers had identified that for the class environment to improve and to instil a new passion for learning in their students, they first needed to go back and teach them how to play and how to take risks.
Nature has so many other benefits for children but for us as adults too. I know I certainly feel calmer and more switched on when teaching outdoors. Through witnessing so many children over the years develop a love for nature and a deep connection to all that comes with it has proved to me why nature pedagogy is so intrinsically important for all children to be a part of. Which is why I will continue to advocate for it each day and remember to share my passion with those who ask.
Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
Svenning, J., Tsirogiannis, C., Arge, L., Bøcker Pedersen, C., Engemann, K., & Bo Mortensen, P. (2019). Residential green space in childhood is associated with a lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/02/26/1807504116
All of our educators will be contributors to our blog. We really enjoy our daily reflections as we revisit our days with the children and their achievements and successes. These blogs will share the stories of the children and the beauty in our days. We hope you enjoy them!