Some weeks ago the biggest nature organisation in Flanders, Natuurpunt, shared an article that was titled “How the wild child can save nature” (Hoe het wilde kind de natuur kan redden). It got me thinking about how there´s still a knowledge gap between what we well-meaning adults think our children need and what they actually benefit from. Here are a few more things that are worth considering (I´ve roughly translated from Dutch the sections I am referring to).
- “It is just a matter of helping children fall in love with the outdoors as quickly as possible by offering them sufficient “nature stimuli”
I hope what they mean by this is to let natural stimuli of nature work on kids, instead of creating these stimuli. Nature in itself enough – you do not need to create entertainment. Don´t clean away the loose materials like leaves, branches, tree trunks but allow the children to play in a space that is big and versatile enough where they can run and hide and allow their bodies and minds to optimally develop by trying out their physical and mental limits.
- “The alarm signals that something is seriously wrong with the current generation of children and their connection with nature reached us in 2005”.
This is the problem. This information may have reached Flanders only in 2005, but the truth is, this started much earlier than that. Skogsmulle started already in the 70´s in Sweden from the exact worry that children are no longer spending time outside. Environmental education started in the 80´s in Finland. I even wrote my final thesis on the topic of getting city kids out to play and referred to “nature relationship” already in 2003. Tons of examples of environmental education are findable from around the world, I am sure. Only in Flanders, the topic has started to live in the initiatives of some passionate individuals, like e.g. https://www.boschool.org, http://www.somaya.be, etc. Until now there has had to be something “wrong ” with the kid to be able to get to spend time in nature (time out projects traditionally are naturebased in Flanders). Prevention has been forgotten.
- “…spending two hours a week in nature is crucial to promoting your health and well-being”.
2 hours per week for children? It´s what they are getting at the moment broken into pieces (play time at school, biking to school, perhaps football practice after school). But that is not enough. Plus, it is not quality exposure. Though quality does not have to mean spectacular nature experiences in the wilderness, although that too would be positive, here we are touching upon the fundamental problem:
- “That it can be done differently is proven by the Scandinavian and German forest schools, kindergartens where children move in nature in all weather conditions and are allowed to climb trees without supervision, sharpen branches and cook their own mud soups”.
I am a big fan of forest schools. By all means, let´s turn them all to forest schools!
Yeah right, in Flanders. But it would be enough to realise the importance of outdoor pedagogy and invest in the school yards and make these places extensions of the class rooms. And allow the kids to play outside in any weather. Remember, no bad weather, just wrong clothes.
But what´s a big problem is the attitudes´of the teachers of the public school system and the regulations and rules they have to follow. Just this morning I biked my 5-year-old to school in his full rain gear because the long awaited rain was finally blessing us abundantly. But I took the rain gear back with me, as I know they will not let the kids out in the rain anyway. Why? Because “they cannot keep an eye on them inside and outside” and because when it rains, no teacher will sacrifice themselves and their brand new white sneakers to get wet and muddy. There´s an information gap right there.
- “The first time to get an earthworm out of the ground, a butterfly that lands on your nose, ringing a baby owl: nature experience can be so intense that it brings about a lasting change”.
Regular nature contact in familiar environment is enough. Independent exploration possibility without an adult voice in the background constantly naming and explaining things is crucial for a child.
I have never had a butterfly land on my nose, let alone ringed an owl. Special, awe awaking experiences can be so much smaller and mundane too, especially when the kids are allowed to use their own inspiration and go out unhurried. Once a year to zeeklas/bosklas/boerderij klas is fun but by no means enough. As Dr Miles Richardson, leading nature connection researcher puts it: “Rather than ‘a meaningful’ visit, create a meaningful relationship. Once again there’s a proposal to ‘learn about nature’, instead, bring the enjoyment and wonder of the natural world to the fore. Find stars in the everyday, in the cobwebs, in the leaves, in the birdsong – in the nature children will find everyday at home”.