“Habits are cobwebs at first; cables at last.”
In recent years, our society has seen a structural shift reducing the access to and use of outdoors for many children. More and more children are spending ever increasing amounts of time inside and ‘plugged in’ and less time outside in the fresh air and getting active. Not only are they losing a vital connection with the natural world, but they are becoming less healthy as evidenced by the rising incidence of childhood obesity and mental health problems.
It is a subject that the Learning Escape hold close to their hearts, based partly upon the work of Richard Louv, the author of many books that have sparked an international movement to reconnect children with nature. He has identified a phenomenon that he has named “Nature Deficit Disorder” and makes a strong case for the value of spontaneous outdoor play and the importance of nature in our children’s lives. He contends that a connection with the natural world fosters happier, healthier and smarter children as, quite simply, being outside is good for our spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing… whatever our age.
Natural environments are uniquely engaging, stimulating and life enhancing. They allow children to reach new depths of understanding about themselves, their abilities and their relationship with the world around them. Furthermore, exposure to nature has been found to enhance children’s concentration, self-discipline and behaviour.
Play, especially unstructured, imaginative and exploratory play, has long been recognised as an essential component of wholesome childhood development. It enhances problem-solving skills; nurtures the art of negotiation with peers; strengthens the imagination and promotes confidence. When free-flow play is undertaken outside, children are instinctively inclined to act upon their natural curiosity and spontaneously hone their ability to assess risk.
The challenge is making the outdoors an inviting place in which children feel as comfortable as they do inside: a place in which they can choose to be, or not, as the mood takes them. Feeling at ease with being outdoors early in life makes it more likely that later opportunities for playing and learning outside will be utilised to their fullest and a healthy, active lifestyle be adopted into adulthood. And the early years’ setting is an ideal place to start a healthy habit, to last a lifetime.
Nature doesn’t have to be something to travel to; it can be the thing in which children are immersed the whole time they are at nursery. Early years settings have an important role to play in establishing a child’s day to day connection with nature; teaching them from a young age about the world in which they live and their role within it. A specialist eco-nursery provider, such as the Learning Escape, will create a building that is not only mindful of the need to preserve the environment (via the use of sustainable materials, technologies and methods) but will also be designed specifically to bridge the gap between indoors and outdoors.
For instance, the inclusion of covered walkways and decked areas allow children to free flow from inside to out while exploring and playing, even on rainy days: they are also a great space in which to locate messy activities such as water or sand! As each building is built on a standalone basis, the grounds and entrances can be made fully secure and the full length windows and glass doors allow staff inside to keep a watchful eye on the intrepid adventurers outside, as they set forth on a voyage of discovery.
As said by one of our customers, St. Fagans Primary School in South Wales:
“The nursery children now have better access to their outdoor classroom area. We have seen a big improvement in their behaviour and they are much calmer, something that we think may be due to the natural light they have which was not available in the previous room.”
Outdoor play – Could it save the planet?