How Nature Teaches Kids What Technology Can’t

With screentime becoming nearly synonymous with raising children, could our beloved technology actually be hindering education?

Serving every purpose from teaching kids their ABCs and basic colors, to keeping them occupied at restaurants, phones, tablets and gadgets have made it easier on parents (and other nearby patrons) in many ways. However, a disconnect from nature and manual tasks are leaving gaps in our children’s education and may leave them playing catch-up as adults.

Much like the benefits of building a classroom library, exposing kids to nature and the outdoors on a regular basis gives them the opportunity for tactile learning – and fresh air – that technology cannot provide. As higher education becomes more necessary to career success, thus making early education increasingly competitive, some schools’ decision to eliminate recess in favor of additional classroom time is detrimental to fostering necessary connections to nature that contribute to lower stress levels, higher information retention and decreased restlessness, which all lead to a longer, healthier life – and planet.

Access to nature and greenery is especially important in urban communities, where nontraditional education tactics may already be necessary to reach students effectively. One study, presented by the California State Education and Environment Roundtable, observed their Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning (EIC) education framework, which promotes collaborative, hands-on, engaging activities as central to curricula. These observations suggest that 92 percent of students in EIC programs – programs with a specific focus on creating an appreciation for the environment and natural surroundings – achieve higher test scores than their counterparts in traditional schooling.

So how do we actually implement this and teach kids to love nature amid the lure of technology? Here are some steps you can take in your own classroom or home.

Make recess and outdoor time a daily priority. While recommended recess duration and frequency are up for debate, we know that breaks are crucial to academic success. Educators at Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) suggest a 10-minute break for every 50 minutes of studying. Reap even more rejuvenating benefits by taking students outdoors for those 10 minutes.

Make the outdoors your classroom. Science is an obvious subject to teach outside, but Mother Nature also offers boundless lessons in literature, math, language, art and so on.

Let children play. Unstructured outdoor time gives kids the freedom they need to develop autonomy, self-efficacy and problem-solving skills that translate to a creative future.

Not every school has to be as far out as the forest schools of Scandinavia, for instance, but our children can undoubtedly benefit by adopting some of their practices. The outdoors create a level playing field, a place where all students can connect and communicate, regardless of their home life. Shakespeare’s quote from Troilus and Cressida, “one touch of nature makes the whole world kin,” perfectly captures nature’s ability to transcend the social pressures that today’s technology makes even more destructive to kids’ and teens’ self-esteem.

Nature has the power to improve life on every level and at any age, so getting outdoors and developing a reverence for nature early on only makes it easier for people throughout the rest of their lives. What are your favorite ways to get outside? What does outdoor time look like in your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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