Thursday, 27 December 2012

Without nature, the little children suffer – Opinion – ABC Environment (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Without nature, the little children suffer – Opinion – ABC Environment (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
You'll have to excuse me if these next few items aren't timely. I save them when I see them and rarely have time to post them.  Regardless of when they were written they're still very pertinent.

An exceptionally in depth article about disconnection from nature and the toll it has taken on the current adult and child generations. I would advise reading the original from the link above as it is hyperlinked to a large amount of relevant research.

Full article can be read from the link above. 
""Most adults climbed trees and played outdoors when they were children. But today's young people don't play outdoors like their parents. It's an omission with grave implications.

WE COME ALIVE FOR WHAT WE hold near and dear. It's hard to be impassioned for a cause which feels remote.

Charities know this. It's why they bring impoverished third world villagers, or cancer suffers, into our lounge room, via the telly: if they can make us connect with the issue, we are more inclined to support it.

Environmental activists are emboldened to speak up because they perceive they are about to lose something. Something they truly, deeply connect with.

"In wildness is the preservation of the world." With these few words, American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, succinctly captured humanity's fate. Nature is unruly, untamed. But it is also our future.

Yet we so often talk of 'The Environment' as if it exists elsewhere else, a distant entity that humankind is not connected to. A naughty, wild child, whom we might put in a room and close the door on, for a bit of 'time out'.

We may have disconnected from nature, but we are delusional if we think we can live without it. Ignoring the value and contribution of nature to our well being is, quite literally, life threatening.

But ignoring is exactly what we're doing. In his seminal 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv, gave this ignorance a term: Nature Deficit Disorder. While not a medically recognised condition, there is an ever expanding body of work which supports Louv's central theme: that deprivation of a relationship with nature is fraught with multiple health and welfare issues. For people. And planet.

There's head-shaking anecdotal evidence of our disconnect with nature, such as the story I was told of kids too scared to play in their own backyard, because they'd heard that insects wee and poo out there.

Scientific corroboration is also abundant. The Children and Nature Network has a collection of research papers, published between 2009 and 2011, which explored benefits to kids from contact with the outdoors. The list of abstracts alone runs to 68 pages.

Research such as Planet Ark's recent examinations of Australian childhood interaction with nature today, relative to a generation ago. One of the findings being that, "64 per cent of respondents reported climbing trees when they were children as compared to less than 20 per cent of their children."

The Danish Society for Nature Conservation observed very similar findings in their survey of 2,000 Danes:"59 per cent of grandparents reported visiting a natural setting every day during the summer when they were children, as compared to... just 26 per cent of children today."

Four hundred German and Lithuanian high school students participated in research that found "children's emotional affinity towards nature was a significant predictor of children's willingness for pro-environmental commitment."

A related study in the USA set out to "understand what leads children to continue participating in natural history-oriented professions/education/hobbies as a young adult." The research concluded that a such vocational choice results from "early childhood and is driven by direct, informal and unstructured experiences with nature (from wildlands to vacant lots)."

For many Aussies their introduction to camping and outside adventures began with involvement in Scouts and Guides. Five years ago the international Scout movement celebrated 100 years of life in the great outdoors. But it was a bittersweet centenary. In 2001, Australia had 2,126 Scout Groups, yet by 2011 this had shrunk to just 1,524. A noteworthy decline, coming on the back of a significant modernisation drive within Scouting.

Where did all those budding young Baden Powells go? Inside.

For 98 per cent of Australian children, "watching TV or videos out of school hours remains the most common recreational activity of children aged 5 to 14 years." So revealed the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in the 2003 study, Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities.Experiencing nature in an outdoor setting can help tackle not only physical health
problems such as obesity and coronary heart disease, but also mental health problems

A follow up report in 2006 noted that "[N]ot only was the participation rate highest for 'watching television, videos or DVDs', on average, children involved spent more time on this activity than on any of the other selected activities." In a study published last year, the ABS reported that whereas a tad over half of all children were playing games online in 2006, by 2009 and this had increased to just shy of 70 per cent. The ABS also noted that 17 per cent of kids 8 to 14 had a computer in their bedroom.

Researchers at the University of Sydney discovered that "Children who spend more time in outdoor sport activities and less time watching TV have better retinal microvascular structure." Retinal blood vessels have been linked to cardiovascular disease risk factors and blood pressure.

A couple of years ago the Australian national depression initiative, Beyond Blue, engaged Associate Professor Mardie Townsend of Deakin University's Faculty of Health, Medicine, Nursing and Behavioural Sciences to investigate any health benefits from including the outdoors in our lives. She observed, "Experiencing nature in an outdoor setting can help tackle not only physical health problems such as obesity and coronary heart disease, but also mental health problems - and there is plenty of evidence to support the claim." Laying out that evidence in her 160-page report.

Drawing on the work of Kurt Hahn, pioneer of experiential learning and the guy behind Outward Bound and the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, Expeditionary Learning schools cite as one of their core principles, "direct respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and teaches the important ideas of recurring cycles and cause and effect. Students learn to become stewards of the earth and of future generations."

Developing this early connection with nature is not just some bucolic vision of the 'nuts and berries' crowd. It also has a deep and profound influence on children's intellectual health as well. Richard Louv's book is packed with examples, including the school who educated their kids out amongst local rivers, mountains and forests, "96 per cent of [their] students meet or exceed state standards for math problem-solving—compared to only 65 per cent of eighth graders at comparable middle schools."

I'm not suggesting that everyone need spend 738 days hugging a tree like Julia Hill or Miranda Gibson. There are a host of mainstream opportunities for our children to learn about, and from, the outdoors. There's school endorsed outdoor education experiences, or Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden programs as currently embraced by 267 Australian primary schools. From horticultural therapy to care farming. Or Scouts and Guides. And let's not forget family weekends camping in the bush; or simply get down and dirty, rolling in the grass and watching bees in the backyard or nearby park, with Mum and Dad.

For as William Shakespeare penned, "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."

Society too disconnected with nature - Home & Garden -

Society too disconnected with nature - Home & Garden -

You'll have to excuse me if these next few items aren't timely. I save them when I see them and rarely have time to post them. Regardless of when they were written they're still very pertinent.

Full article can be read from the link above.   

Understanding nature helps children see the interconnectedness of our ecosystem and the delicate balance required to preserve it. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Do you notice a disconnect between the natural world and our daily life? Do you wonder why obesity is quickly becoming our country’s biggest health issue? Questions like these prompted author Richard Louv to coin the term “nature-deficit disorder” in response to the growing problems that stem from society’s dependence on the indoors. The concept that we need to unplug and spend more time outdoors is not a recent development; botanical educators have been sounding the same anthem for decades.

Why is it important to connect to our natural world? Can’t we just learn what we need from the Discovery Channel or our iPad?

While it may seem frivolous to schedule “outdoor time,” researchers are finding that it can contribute to our physical and mental health, especially in children. It has been found that children who have access to and utilize outdoor spaces are less likely to exhibit symptoms of attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, have less anxiety and improved balance skills. They are also less likely to become overweight and are able to cope with stressful situations better than children who do not have outdoor experiences.

How can we overcome nature-deficit disorder? Believe it or not, pediatricians are now prescribing “nature” to their patients who are struggling with obesity and other health issues. Garden strolls and retreats to natural areas have long been used by physicians to help their patients.

You don’t have to wait for a doctor to tell you to get outside — be sure to enjoy those moments daily. Allow for children to have “unstructured” time when they can use their imaginations and explore their world.

Safe places to play are very important. Botanic gardens, school gardens, parks and even your own backyard can all be perfect areas to help children (and adults) overcome nature-deficit disorder.

As we dedicate time to observing nature, we develop a “sense of place.” What is a sense of place? It is something different for each of us but a very important component of a healthy life. Knowing who you are and where you came from enables you to see where you want to go and what possibilities are in your future. As we move towards a global society where information is just a click away, these local connections become even more vital in building our concept of self.

When we look at the bigger picture, engaging in outdoor play not only benefits us physically, it also opens doors to understanding the natural rhythms and life cycles of our local environment. Getting to know your neighbors — local plants, animals and humans — allows you to see the interconnectedness of our ecosystem and the delicate balance we all must work to preserve.

Ready to accept the challenge? Go ahead, unplug your laptop, leave your phone at home and take a walk in the natural beauty that is all around you!

Learning for Life: Practical Tips for Making Outdoor Learning a Reality (Guest Post by Emily Plank)

Learning for Life: Practical Tips for Making Outdoor Learning a Reality (Guest Post by Emily Plank)

You'll have to excuse me if these next few items aren't timely. I save them when I see them and rarely have time to post them.  Regardless of when they were written they're still very pertinent.

Great guest post on Learning for Life by Emily Plank. Whilst I can quite easily design a natural playspace we often forget that naturalistic play and the benefits derived from it are a state of mind, both for educators and children. Emily provides a detailed and practical account of her personal experience in developing both a natural play philosophy and natural play space area/experiences.  

"Absolutely delighted to have Emily from Abundant Life Children guest posting this week, sharing her thoughts on how to create an outdoor area that allows for real quality learning.

Emily Plank is passionately passionate about care for children in their early years. She is a play-enthusiast, expert block-builder, and skilled storyteller, honing her skills during her days with the children at her in-home program, Abundant Life Children. When she’s not playing, she is tirelessly spreading the message of play and respect to those who work with children (teachers, parents, and policy makers) through her blog,, and her in-person workshops and presentations.

Practical Tips for Making Outdoor Learning a Reality

I am one of those “outdoor education” types: championing the child’s right to be muddy, cheering unstructured time in nature, encouraging adventure, and supporting efforts to unplug. Yet, despite my utopian idea of young children busily building forts or crouching to inspect the tiny wings of a moth, actually developing a style of education that works outside is an ongoing challenge!
I grew up a city girl in Southern California. Despite what you might assume, I spent a good deal of time outside engaged in typical childhood endeavors of tree climbing and endless swinging. Mostly, I remember playing for long stretches with my brothers or my friends, making up story lines to mimic the realities we observed around us.

My mission as an early childhood educator has been to identify the critical elements of nature play and find a way to make those elements work-able in my day-to-day experience. I am an in-home care provider, meaning I am charged with the care and education of a small crew of seven children with a wide age range (currently, 15 months old – 4.5 years old). They arrive at my home around 8:00 am and stay until 5:30 pm. I am responsible for preparing meals (breakfast, morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack). I clean, I assist with toileting, I encourage thoughtful interactions between children, and I structure the day.

Through the process of developing my space, I have found several key elements and ways of implementing those elements that have been very successful in my setting.

1. Defined spaces. Environment signals usage. Cluttered spaces signify high intensity activities and chaos (think giant, unordered toy boxes). Partitioned, disconnected spaces suggest inflexibility in material movement. Wide-open fields offer spaces for running and kick a ball, but limit small-motor, creative play.

Strategically designing an outdoor classroom involves balancing the many uses: areas for art, areas for small gatherings of 1-2 children, open areas for running and jumping, areas for creative expression, and areas for messy and dirty play. One of our favorite and most frequently used areas is a large rectangular area with a mulch base. It serves as our art and outdoor eating area, since it is a natural space for messy activities.

2. Independence – keeping the children in charge. My firm belief is that one of the greatest gifts we can give to children is to foster their sense of competency. How frustrating is it to want to do something, but lack the ability? An outdoor classroom should provide lots of child sized items, movable step stools, and clearly defined and age-appropriate expectations.

On nice days, we frequently take our shoes off outside (sand + shoes = bummer!). But, keeping track of seven pairs of shoes is an impossible task for me. Children at Abundant Life are clear about the expectation: if you take your shoes off, put them on the shoe shelf where they can be easily found later.

3. Water. For play, and for washing. Children need water to facilitate their experiences with other materials (dirt, sand, grass, etc.), to expand their basic mathematical and spatial development, and to clean up when they are ready to come inside.

A water hose with an on-off valve that children can activate on their own, a sophisticated water pump allowing children to draw water whenever they want, or even a large group size water thermos on a low table can provide the opportunity for children to collect water for their play whenever they want.

4. Specific interest areas. The following is a list of areas that I think are a “must have” in outdoor classrooms. Some of these areas rotate in my outdoor classroom, but all are available at any moment when the need arises.

Digging space – an unused dirt patch in the corner or a dedicated sandbox. Children should be able to dig deep and mix with water. Keeping kitchen materials nearby facilitates dramatic play with mud or sand.

Levels – children want to climb in order to see the world from a different point of view. When we finished digging for our sand pits, we used the dirt to create a grassy knoll in the middle of our yard. Large tree stumps, moveable wooden crates, or heavy-duty wooden blocks that can be stacked accomplish the same idea.

Tinkering area – loose parts and fasteners. Consider hammers and nails, string, tape, glue, natural materials such as pinecones and acorns, small pieces of wood, wooden wheels, and popsicle sticks.

Mixing station – an assortment of dry and liquid materials for children to combine and mix. In the past, we’ve included oats, vinegar, oil, baking soda, lotion, syrup, liquid water color, sand, dried beans, rice, and sequins. Some areas prohibit the use of food items for sensory play as it can send a conflicting message about the use of food, so deciding on what materials to include requires some reflection.

What about you? My outdoor program is always changing…do you have ideas that are on your “must-include” list when you take children outside? Leave a note below in the comments – I’d love to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Let your children go tree-climbing: National Trust attacks parents who mollycoddle | Mail Online

Let your children go tree-climbing: National Trust attacks parents who mollycoddle | Mail Online
You'll have to excuse me if these next few items aren't timely. I save them when I see them and rarely have time to post them.  Regardless of when they were written they're still very pertinent.

Another report examining how phantom fears of potential liability and a hyperactive media have been instrumental in separating children and nature. Not really sure about, "a generation of weaklings"
Full article can be read from the link above.   

Children are being cut off from nature by mollycoddling parents who refuse to let them play out in the rain, climb trees and get dirty, according to a National Trust inquiry.

In a report out today, the charity urges parents to give youngsters wellies and a raincoat and send them outdoors to build dens, make mud pies and go bug-hunting.

It warns that children are increasingly leading ‘sedentary and sheltered’ lives due to health and safety fears, the rise of indoor entertainment such as video games and the decline of outdoor activities in school.

Children should be encouraged to play outdoors and allowed to climb trees, according to a National Trust inquiry

Council bureaucrats and police sometimes have ‘negative attitudes’ and regard outdoor play as ‘something to be stopped rather than encouraged’. But parents are the most powerful influence over their children’s exposure to nature and the countryside, the two-month inquiry concluded.

Interviews with groups of children found that many had picked up messages from their parents that the outdoors is dangerous and they shouldn't go out in the rain in case they ‘slip or catch a cold’. Activities such as climbing trees were also seen as too risky.

Only older boys were regularly allowed out without an adult, with others closely supervised, according to the interviews conducted by research firm Childwise on behalf of the Trust.

Grandparents also have a role to play, according to the inquiry, since they are likely to have spent more time outdoors as children and could pass this on to younger generations. The National Trust inquiry, which canvassed the views of organisations and members of the public as well as children, also found that youngsters’ time is ‘over-scheduled and pressured’ – often with activities that cost money.

‘The power of family life in shaping children’s experiences was perhaps the most emphatic message underlined by respondents,’ the report said. The inquiry was launched following the publication of a report in March, commissioned by the Trust, which found that children’s health and well-being was being damaged because they are losing touch with nature.

Stephen Moss, the naturalist and broadcaster who wrote the report, warned that youngsters were suffering from ‘nature deficit disorder’ and growing up ‘a generation of weaklings’.

The Ecology of Hope: Reconnecting Children and Nature : Living Green Magazine

The Ecology of Hope: Reconnecting Children and Nature : Living Green Magazine

You'll have to excuse me if these next few items aren't timely. I save them when I see them and rarely have time to post them.  Regardless of when they were written they're still very pertinent.

Great article. It focusses on the idea that just like hair or eye colour, comprehension and appreciation of  nature is hereditary. Hereditary in the nurture sense.

Full article can be read from the link above.   

Ecology is a term my grandfather, Perl Charles, taught me. He was born in 1899, the oldest of four children of Bula and Tom Charles, who settled in New Mexico in 1907. Granddad, as were many in the family, was a lifelong conservationist. Humorous and wise, he epitomized common sense.

He taught me that all parts of any environment, living and nonliving, exist in relationship to one another in an ecology. Combine ecology with hope, and we get what I am calling the Ecology of Hope.

For many reasons, beginning with the enormity of the challenges we face – from the malaise of the culture of depression to the ravages of lost biodiversity and global climate change, to the fragmentation of families, to the disillusion of many youth – we, who can, need to demonstrate the positive power of the Ecology of Hope.

We can exercise the will, make conscious choices, and cultivate a sense of efficacy in ourselves and others. We can make life better for children, and ourselves, by opening the door to the first classroom – the natural world, from backyards to neighborhoods to parks and public places.

We can inspire in children a belief that the world can be a better place. We can go a long way to achieving that goal by reconnecting children and nature.

......We together can heal the separation between children and nature. We can reestablish a healthy, natural balance between technology and natural systems. We can build a movement that succeeds in reconnecting children and nature and in that process inspires a new generation to believe in a better future.

We can be a generation that leaves a legacy of leadership and an Ecology of Hope.

Cheryl Charles, Ph.D., is an educator, author, innovator and organizational executive, and cofounder of the Children & Nature Network(

Suzuki Foundation and teachers make connecting kids with nature part of the lesson plan -

Suzuki Foundation and teachers make connecting kids with nature part of the lesson plan -

You'll have to excuse me if these next few items aren't timely. I save them when I see them and rarely have time to post them.  Regardless of when they were written they're still very pertinent.

Full article can be read from the link above.   
Mother Nature is not far beyond the classroom door. But when schoolchildren go looking for her, it often involves bus rides, permission slips and expeditions to conservation areas.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Especially this fall, when teachers of Grades 4 and 6 will have a new tool to get kids outside and immersed in the nature at their fingertips.

Connecting with Nature is a new educational guide developed by the David Suzuki Foundation and Nipissing University’s Schulich School of Education. The 170-page book is available for free on the foundation’s website.

“It expands the walls of the classroom, it goes beyond the blackboard and gets (students) out there using their senses as they learn,” says Jenny Guibert, one of two project managers for the guide and an education instructor at Nipissing’s Brantford campus. “It’s how kids get that instant connection with nature.”

....That’s why the 16 lesson plans — aligned with the Ontario curriculum — include activities like a walkabout in the schoolyard to identify nature, and treks through the neighbourhood to find sources of water, pollinators and to track how many people are walking, cycling, driving or waiting at bus stops. These then become springboards for discussing topics like biodiversity, water conservation and green transportation.

.....Until recently, the focus was on teaching kids about issues like recycling and climate change. Now, it’s on cultivating a love of nature first, and helping children recognize and appreciate it exists.“That has to be the starting point, especially with that age group,” says Clare. “You want to build on that sense of wonder.”

.....The Toronto District School Board is enthusiastic because it fits with their initiatives to promote“eco-schools” and recent plans to convert parts of schoolyards into “nature study areas,” says board superintendent Jeff Hainbuch.  ......“You can’t learn about that connectedness just from a textbook,” he says. “But you don’t have to go to an outdoor ed centre to do that either.”

Jordan Tamblyn remembers what it’s like to be a kid catching frogs, picking flowers and exploring the woods near her cottage...... “Kids inherently want to go outside and that’s where they do most of their learning,” says Tamblyn.