Experience in child development research shows that all children need, and benefit, from more time outdoors; it is critical for their health, self-concept and future school success. One of my favorite aspects of our preschool’s Reggio Emilia curricula, is the emphasis on nature: the outdoor environment is as important and influential a learning tool as is a well thought out classroom.
Obviously, nature is inherently “natural.” It is neither constructed nor sanitized; rather, it is often disorganized and organic. It is raw and awaits the hands of our children to investigate and repurpose. The possibilities are limitless, the tools inexhaustible: light, textures, creatures, plants and matter. Nature is filled with materials drawing our children in, encouraging them to try new things, to create and to wonder. Vincent Van Gogh famously saw, “nature and the artist as inseparably linked.”
Play—especially in the great outdoors—again proves to be a valuable learning tool, as our children become not only explorers, but artists and scientists as well.
Stereotypes would suggest that art and science are polar opposites. One dominated by technical introverts, the other by expressive eccentrics. In fact, both fields are (again) proving stereotypes wrong. Albert Einstein wrote “the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
Believing that our children can be—and are—artists and scientists, is not romantic idealism. It is genuine respect for their amazing capability to learn. It is the same level of respect for the artists and scientists whose creations regularly impress and produce oooh’s and aaah’s.
Here in Southern California our children are lucky to have the outdoors serve as a playground year-round. As easily as we incorporate the indoors into learning, we include the outdoors. Go see what you discover; take a child with you and wonder will grow exponentially. _
Lisa Monette has worked with children for over 20 years, she is the Director of the Sheila and Eric Samson Family Early Childhood Center at the Merage JCC. Contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.