I wanted to share this video as an introduction to the broader idea of the relationship children have with nature. This particular forest school, based in Surrey, UK, not only offers Pre-K and early childhood education, but also extends courses to older children and adults. We learned in our discussion and through the book that our perceptions of nature as children are incredibly formative. Having a direct relationship with the natural environment is not only a way to teach children freedom, but is also healthy. According to a study shared through the Children & Nature Network, antidepressant use among children 2-19 years of age grew significantly between 1988 and 1994. The belief is held that increased time indoors and at school is causing children to feel depressed or to exhibit signs of high stress atypical for age. A study by the journal of Pediatrics found that 70% of children are not receiving enough Vitamin D which is proven to assist in mood regulation.
In our own experiences, I’m sure many of us would feel that we had an active childhood. For myself, growing up in a very rural town in Illinois was very important in shaping how I feel about the natural environment. The ability to explore what was naturally around me with very little supervision gave 7 year old me a very big sense of freedom. Add in the fact that throughout Elementary School and Middle School we had at least 20 minutes of outside time after lunch AND required daily physical education that, often times, met outdoors, and it’s clear that I was immersed outdoors in some capacity for much of my formative years. Being able to run around, dig in the dirt, and build things out of sticks between the humdrum of Language Arts and Math is an important “grounding” experience for children.
Forest Schools, like the one in Surrey, seek to immerse children in nature by teaching them practical skills. As you saw in the video, the children not only get to run around and play, but they learn how to use tools, how to start fires and necessary safety rules for each activity they do. While there is some order and restriction, the majority of the day focuses on a Montessori-esque approach which encourages children to choose what they learn that day. This feature gives children a sense of control over their day and environment, thus empowering them.
These introductions to nature are important, and the importance cannot be stressed enough. A closeness and appreciation for nature helps children to be more healthy, creative, and strong–something all parents would wish for their children.