Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Learning in Nature

photo courtesy of Schoola
Summer is an exciting time for children, and even parents welcome a break from the long school year.  But educators and parents alike understand that during the summer fun, children may encounter “summer slide.”  In her article “How to Prevent Summer Slide,” Gennifer Rose, Community and Content Specialist at Schoola, a fundraiser program designated to help schools, shares some valuable advice from teacher and mom, Haley Lussenden.  

Haley Lussenden

Haley explains that summer slide is the tendency for students to lose some of the academic progress made during the school year.  When children observe their parents reading or using mathematical skills for everyday solutions, Haley believes they are more open to read and solve problems themselves.  Haley also understands the importance of keeping summer learning fun and exciting.  And what would summer be without trips to the great outdoors and hands-on connection with nature?

“If your child sees you ... working through the math to determine the number of tomato plants that will fit in your garden, he or she will be far more likely to exhibit similar behaviors,” Haley said.

Haley also advises that summer learning should be light and fun, so reading books about outdoor activities they love, or encouraging critical thinking as they explore is essential.

Photo courtesy of Shelby Sheene

Shelby Sheene, a homeschooling mom of three who runs her own photography business in Florida, is a proponent of her children connecting with nature.  Children grasp essential concepts while connecting with the world around them, learning just as much, if not more, than traditional teaching methods.  

“The children and I wanted to learn about different textures and colors of leaves and greenery, so we went on a nature walk,” Shelby said. “We brought a little canvas bag with us and collected different colors.  The girls had fun feeling different leaves for various textures.”  

After collecting their leaves and placing them in a nature journal, Shelby’s first grader matched water paint to the color of the greenery.  The swatches provided comparison between textures and colors.   “That way we conquered science and art in one lesson,” Shelby said.

Photo courtesy of Shelby Sheene
There are many other benefits to children learning outdoors.  Research suggests that time in nature helps with moods and motor skills.  In a study published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," Stanford scientists researched how a nature walk could reduce the amount of stress encountered by people living in urban areas, naturally a high-tension environment.  The outcome was decreased obsession over life events  and in activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortices, the area of the brain responsible for cognitive behavior and depression.

Shelby completely agrees with these findings.  “My kids get very pent up and rambunctious indoors. When they can be outside, running around and even barefoot, it's like a totally new personality. They want to explore, crave learning, and take everything in.  They also seem to be pretty advanced in any sort of coordination skill like dance, yoga, and climbing. They rarely ever get sick, and when they do it's usually after an indoor activity like the mall playground or something similar.”

The link between children and nature is becoming more evident.  In his book Last Child in the Woods, child advocacy expert Richard Louv outlines the nature-deficit dilemma faced by younger generations.  His work includes research on how essential it is for kids to be in nature, as it also provides practical solutions and ideas on how to reconnect with the outdoors.

Photo courtesy of Schoola
Summer is the perfect time for fun and relaxation, but it is also  the perfect combination of learning and fun---and what better way to connect with the earth and strengthen our children for the upcoming school year?

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