Updated: Mar 13, 2019
Children need surprisingly little to develop a love of nature and the outdoors - essentially it's coded into their DNA. Children didn't evolve to sit day after day in small boxes of neat tables and chairs called classrooms. The key really is exposure to the natural world from an early age.
It's in Our DNA
Even the most urbanized, citified children in our schools today can quickly learn to appreciate nature and green spaces, through hands-on outdoor education experiences. After all, for most of human history, children have learned outside of classrooms through a combination of parental guidance and learning-by-doing within small, close-knit communities. So it's only natural to align ourselves with our evolutionary past and connect our children to nature. Not doing so would be like clipping the wings of a young bird so it can't learn to fly.
Top 5 Ways to Inspire and Connect Children to the Outdoors
Below are the 5 best ways to encourage a love of the outdoors, based on my experience as a outdoor and sustainability educator. I hope it comes in useful! If you're interested in developing your own school outdoor education program, check out our 10-step action plan designed to gather the momentum needed to get children outside of the classroom within schools.
1. Learn a New Outdoor Activity
Explore nature through learning a new outdoor activity. Kayaking, skiing and mountain biking, for example, require developing new skills and abilities, while fully immersing children in the natural world. So I recommend encouraging young people to explore nature through outdoor activities that involve journeying from A to B, through the wilderness. This provides the opportunity to encourage children to explore, listen to the sounds of wildlife, touch nature with their own hands and smell the scents of the living world.
2. Teach Children Survival Skills
One of the best ways to build confidence and encourage children to grow outside is to develop their survival skills. Through learning how to be prepared for all weather conditions, how to light a fire, how to build a shelter, how to cook a meal on an open fire and what to do in an emergency wilderness situation, children feel more comfortable and better able to cope with the challenges and unpredictability of the outdoors. Children invariably love to learn survival skills and respond well in team tasks and bushcraft challenges.
3. Let Children Play Outdoors
Children need outdoor play. Why? Well, scientists are still unraveling the mysteries of the human mind and child development. However, it seems that the right hemisphere of the brain develops before the left side. This is a huge leap forward in our understanding as it means that right-sided brain functions like creativity, imagination, intuition and art and music awareness develop before left-sided brain functions such as analytical thought, logic, language, number skills and reasoning.
Children naturally develop creativity, imagination and holistic thought when playing outdoors with other children - and the best thing is - they often aren't even aware they're learning! In addition, being surrounded by nature has been shown to improve mental and physical health for children and adults alike.
4. Study Nature
Nature is fascinating for children. Everything is new and exciting. Kids feel a sense of awe and surprise in nature that tends to fade as they get older and more familiar with the living world. A conker tree makes beautiful seeds wrapped in a spiky shell that can be used for conker fights. A mayfly nymph hides under a rock in a river for shelter and can be found by overturning pebbles. A caterpillar changes state from a creepy crawly into a beautiful butterfly able to fly. These "teachable moments" in nature encourage discovery-based learning and curiosity among children that also inspires and encourages a love of being outdoors.
5. Get Creative Outdoors
Creativity and imagination develop early on in young children. It isn't long before youngsters are able to create art and music, make games and engage in imaginative role play. So getting children outdoors to participate in activities like nature art (making art using natural materials), making music from things they find in nature and building dens to hide from the elements (and each other!), gives them a chance to develop right-sided brain functions, putting them in good stead for excelling later on in their formal education.
"Children need surprisingly little to develop a love of nature and the outdoors - essentially it's coded into their DNA. Nobody evolved to sit day after day in small boxes of neat tables and chairs called classrooms. The key really is exposure to the natural world from an early age."
These are some of my top ways to get children to experience the outdoors with their own senses and gain a deeper appreciation of nature. The best thing is, every one builds a new layer of outdoor experience, opening up new avenues for learning and broader child development!
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