Today, outdoor play is becoming a thing of the past. Kids spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did. When they do get outside, it’s usually in a man-made playground where they have no real contact with nature. Well-meaning parents, armed with anti-bacterial towelettes and sunscreen, protect them from the dangers of bugs, dirt and sun exposure. In the old days, a scraped knee was a badge of honor. Now it’s the cause of parental angst.
A daily dose of nature.
You can’t blame parents for being a little over-protective. But ironically, an indoor lifestyle may be the biggest danger of all. Sedentary habits contribute to obesity, depression and anxiety in children. Screen-time on the television, Internet and smartphones are believed to exacerbate Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The trend is so widespread, there is a new term for it: NDD—Nature Deficit Disorder. Studies show that outdoorsy kids are more fit and do better academically than their indoor counterparts. A daily walk in wooded areas lowers blood pressure and levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. And, did you know that playing in mud and dirt actually boosts the body’s immunity from colds and other childhood viruses?
Where learning is an adventure.
Many parents and schools are finding safe, common sense ways to bring nature into children’s lives. At Columbus Academy, outdoor learning plays a major role in students’ health, well-being and academic success. Students of all grade levels make frequent use of Academy’s 231-acre wooded campus. A favorite activity for PreK students is Forest Fridays. Once a week, rain or shine, little ones venture out on wooded paths and trails. They learn how to safely cross a stream or build a log dam. They study the physics of a stone splashing in a pond, and they learn how to work together in an environment that’s different from their regular routine. For them, you could say, that being outdoors is, well, second nature.
Being outdoors isn’t just about play. At every age, it enhances our academics. We do activities that make curricular connections with math, biology, physics and reading. Kids come home excited about what they’ve learned outdoors, and parents love that they are learning, exploring and investigating. We also include parents in outdoor activities with family night walks and camping weekends.”
~ Mark Hansen, Head of the Lower School
Making natural connections.
Academy’s wooded acres provide children with a multi-sensory “classroom” where they can soak up the smells, sounds, colors and textures of the forest. This builds nerve connections in the brain that are essential for brain development. Observing a caterpillar or ladybug teaches kids the powers of observation. It also fosters respect for living things, increasing empathy and awareness of the world around them. A fun surprise throughout the trails? Children stumble on words shaped from acorns and rocks. This reminds them that reading can happen everywhere.
The Crane Outdoor Learning Center at Academy has interactive, nature-centered programs for kids of all ages. Students in PreK through second grade can take after-school programs in archeology where they dig in the dirt, make mud dwellings, and learn about ancient history.