A Brief Lesson in Human History and Child Development

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

Modern humans (homosapiens) have existed for less than the blink of an eye. Anatomically modern humans have been on Earth for just 200,000 years. To put this into perspective, the universe is 14 billion years old. Earth is 4.6 billion years old and the earliest undisputed evidence of life on our little green and blue planet traces back 3.5 billion years ago.


Hold out your arm for just a second. If your arm represents all of time, the big bang would be at your shoulder. The arrival of dinosaurs would be at the base of your finger nail and the arrival of humans would be at the very tip of your finger nail. In fact, if you took your nail file and shaved off just a tiny bit of your nail, that would represent all of human existence!


"There's one crowning glory that sets humans apart from animals, and that is our ability to be creative. To take a plus b and make c is a giant leap in human evolutionary history. No other creature on our planet can process existing knowledge and brand new information to create something new."


There's one crowning glory that sets humans apart from animals, and that is our ability to be creative. To take a plus b and make c is a giant leap in human evolutionary history. No other creature on the planet can process existing knowledge and brand new information to create something new.


A good demonstration of this is seen in children during creative play. If children are left largely to their own devices, their creativity flows out effortlessly by doing things like inventing new games, role playing and building objects with Lego. Creative brain processing is revolutionary and has allowed us to transform our planet in countless ways!


"Everyday we expect children to sit in small boxes we call classrooms, and focus on learning through books and pencils for several hours per day, five days a week. In some countries, children are expected to study for more than 10 hours a day. When put into the context of human evolution, this is mind-blowing."

Additionally, for around 190,000 years of human history, homosapiens lived as hunter gatherers. This nomadic way of life meant moving from place to place and, as far as we can tell, living in social groups averaging between 150 - 200 people.


Children would have been outdoors everyday learning and playing creatively. It seems probable that if we were to send a modern child psychologist back in time 50,000 years, human conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) simply wouldn't have been observed. Children would have been extremely active and learning-by-doing would have been the standard way to learn.


Fast forwards now to the modern day. Everyday we expect children to sit in small boxes we call classrooms, and focus on learning through books and pencils for several hours per day, five days a week. In some countries, children are expected to study for more than 10 hours a day!


When put into the context of human evolution, that is mind-blowing. It effectively means that we're asking children to go against the grain of their evolutionary history by sitting quietly and still during classroom learning, and that's something extremely unnatural for them to do. It's no wonder then that rates of so-called ADHD have sky-rocketed and child obesity is growing fast!



As an outdoor educator, one of the most interesting observations is that kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD, miraculously no longer seem to have it when they learn outdoors. Suddenly all that extra energy is used up being active and moving the body, and their focus on tasks visibly improves too.


So as educators, what can we take from this brief lesson in human history?


Well, there are five things I believe we must acknowledge and change to better align education and learning outcomes with our evolutionary past, as follows:


  1. Children must be active and must move their bodies a lot whether indoors or outdoors

  2. Children must have plenty of time for creative play outdoors and interacting with other kids

  3. Children would benefit from more active and hands-on classroom learning

  4. At least one third of all curriculum learning in schools should happen outdoors

  5. Children diagnosed with ADHD must have regular access to the outdoors

These five things would help align the education process with human instinct and behavior, making a big difference to health and wellbeing, while maximizing creativity and learning among the children we teach.



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