Learning outdoors

I was fortunate to attend a symposium this spring on the importance of nature in a child’s daily routine.  Claire Warden from Scotland presented amazing statistics and information about their efforts to create outdoor childcare centers where most of the child’s day is spent outside – playing, exploring, discovering, testing and learning in ” a place where the carpet changes every day, the ceiling is a myriad of different colors, light, shadow and movement…and unexpected wonders fly by.”  Two of her books are available in our Parents Shelf collection.  Nurture Through Nature offers many simple, hands-on ideas for experiencing nature with children.  She divides chapters by natural resources, such as “Mud and Soil,” “Sand,” and “Animals.” An example of one activity Warden lists is to go on a walk, picking up stones along the way, examining each one. Then on your walk back, try to remember where each stone was picked up.  Most of the ideas are simple and don’t require any planning or extra materials – just time spent with a child outdoors.  Warden also stops to explain what children are learning or getting out of many of the activities to show how learning takes place while they are having fun.  A section dedicated to snow and ice encourages care providers to allow children to explore nature even when it’s cold or icky outside.  Similarly,  The Potential of a Puddle has lots of great activity ideas, and it also gives advice for creating an outdoor learning environment and provides the evidence they used in Scotland to support the need for outdoor care centers.

The other presenter, Rusty Keeler from upstate New York, also had inspiring ideas to make children’s play areas more natural.  In Natural Playscapes, he includes hundreds of pictures of playgrounds and nature areas with features designed to entice children to explore, play and enjoy nature.  He has changed the landscape of many playgrounds from rubberized surfaces with plastic play equipment to feature hills (and hill slides, which are very cool), greenery, tunnels, bridges, paths with varying textures, and huts made of wood, sticks or “living willow” branches. He encouraged “community builds” where you involve many people from the community who bring different skills and materials to help transform your play area.  His book is very detailed and provides do-it-yourself instructions.

Keeler always includes a “loose parts” area where natural objects are left on a table or the ground, inviting children to play with them without any specific directions.  Loose parts often include tree trunk circles (trunks sawed into disks), seed pods, shovels, along with fun things that aren’t necessarily natural, like bowls, cups, paint brushes, milk crates and plastic pipes.  If you can have water available, all the better, Keeler says.  It’s amazing what kids will create given some free time and the mixture of dirt and water.   The symposium, which was hosted by K-State Center for Child Development for their teachers and funded by the Caroline Peine foundation, inspired us to plan an “International Mud Day” storytime this June and gave us many ideas to help develop our garden area that will be included in our library expansion project.

-Reviewed by Jennifer

Posted in: Children's Dept, For Kids, Parents

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