Outdoor Learning: Connecting Kids with Nature

Playing outside is essential to the healthy growth of children. Children need to get outside, get dirty and discover the natural world around them. They need to, but they are not.

In a recent article in “The Guardian”, a survey in the U.K. showed that 74% of children spent less than 60 minutes a day playing outside. United Nations Guidelines for prisoners require “at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily”.

What does this mean? This means that the average child in the U.K. spends less time outdoors on a daily basis then prison inmates! It’s a rather dramatic comparison and it is frightening. Other modern first world nations such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, Korea, and Japan are probably in a similar situation with the U.K.

Kids simply don’t get outside like they did when their parents were children. The article points to three major reasons; lack of green spaces, parental fear, and electronic devices.

Parental fears and electronic devices are topics to discuss in other articles. In this post I want to focus on the lack of green space and how parents and children shouldn’t let this get in the way of connecting, or in the case of many parents, reconnecting with nature.

Nature is everywhere. We’re surrounded by it even when we live in the big city. We simply have to know where to look for it and how to find it. Sometimes this may be a little more effort than if we lived in the countryside. Those of us living an urban life need to work harder to connect with the natural world, but once we learn where to look and how to do it, it becomes a lot easier than one might think.

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My 2 children and their friends catching crayfish in a park in the middle of Kobe, Japan. (2016)

We do have parks in the city. Some may be very large, but others may be nothing more than a few square meters of grass or plant life. Even in these small places, brilliant amounts of life can be found. Even a small park can be a wonderful habitat that supports insects, birds and other creatures.

For young children growing up in cities, it is an even bigger challenge to connect with nature. It’s the job of the adults around them to teach them about all creatures great and small and the flowers and plants they encounter on a daily basis. Teachers, guardians and most importantly, parents are ultimately the ones responsible for introducing children to the wonders around them.

Teachers, of course, have an important role in this, but ultimately, parents are the most influential people in a child’s life. Parents are the greatest of teachers and if their children grow up not being aware of the natural world or having no empathy towards it, those parents have in a way failed as educators.

Now, of course, there are many out there who themselves grew up in urban areas and through no fault of there own were never exposed to nature as young ones. These are the people I would like to connect with through this blog series. I want to give you the ideas and tools to teach the young ones around you about the natural wonders that can be discovered and investing everywhere.

I also want to connect with parents and educators who simply need a few new ideas or a different perspective on the natural world.

I plan to write about fun activities you can do with your children, students or younger family members you engage with. These are simple activities that don’t involve spending money (or very little) or traveling great distances.

I plan to start this series with the ultimate goal of compiling the posts into a self-published guidebook for parents and educators. A guidebook that will help connect you as well as those around you to nature.

The more we understand about nature, the more we will respect and care for it.

The environment is in trouble. Climate change, loss of species and habitat, over-fishing; things are in bad shape.

Each and every one of us can do something about it though. We can take action and make a change for the better. One of the best ways to do that is to connect the young ones around us with nature and nurture a relationship between them and the world around them. Once they make a true connection they will become the future stewards of the environment and that’s only going to benefit all of us.


(Originally written and posted on another blog in December 2016)



About the Writer:

Kevin O’Shea is a PYP/Nature/Outdoor educator currently based in Beijing, China. He is a father, husband, and avid conservationist. Kevin is an advocate for outdoor play and nature education.  He is the host of the long-running Just Japan Podcast and is currently developing the Making Better Teachers Podcast!

Twitter: @MadForMaple

Email: makingbetterteachers@gmail.com

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