KIDS NEED TO PLAY OUTSIDE
If you think back to your childhood and your favourite memories, there’s a good chance that many of them were created outdoors. As children we spent a good deal of our time in gardens, parks, woodland, at the beach, playing in the street or camping outdoors. Will the latest generation of children be able to say that when they grow up? It’s very unlikely. Most research points to the fact that children nowadays spend only on average half as much time outdoors as their parents did. In many cases kids spend less time outdoors each day than inmates in prison. Fears (both rational and irrational) for our children’s safety have made us paranoid. Technology has taken over our lives and made us lazy. Our children’s busy schedules have left them no time for the simple pleasure of playing freely outdoors.
The forest schools movement which began in Scandinavia over fifty years ago and has now spread to many parts of Europe and North America aims to change all this. Children in forest schools spend all or a good deal of their time outdoors in nature. Most of that time is spent playing freely in child initiated activities. Practitioners working with these children have observed many wonderful developments in their social, physical and cognitive skills. So just what are the benefits of playing outdoors and why should children participate in forest school programmes?
Children who play freely outdoors gain independence and self-confidence through taking risks, solving problems and initiating their own play without interference from adults.
Children playing together in forest school programmes improve their social skills by engaging in constructive group play and activities which encourage co-operation and team building.
COMMUNICATION AND LANGUAGE SKILLS
The sensory experiences provided by playing in nature encourage children to develop their vocabulary. Under the guidance of trained practitioners they are encouraged to extend their listening and language skills.
MOTIVATION AND CONCENTRATION
As children spend most of their time outdoors pursuing their own interests their level of motivation is very high. High levels of interest leads to high levels of attention and concentration. Being out in nature is fascinating to children which makes them more inclined to participate in and concentrate on activities for longer periods of time increasing their learning.
Children in forest schools naturally participate in more physical activity which has a beneficial effect on their physical health. Their immune systems are strengthened by being exposed to microbes and different weather conditions and their gross and fine motor skills are challenged in ways they couldn’t be in the classroom.
KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING
The natural world gives children the opportunity to learn firsthand about scientific and mathematical principles. Also children participating in forest school programes develop a love of nature and respect for the environment. These children then share what they have learned with those close to them ensuring that the environment will be protected for years to come.
LEVELS THE PLAYING FIELD
Taking learning outside of the classroom takes the emphasis away from academic learning and allows each child to shine and show off their own strengths. Children who might struggle in traditional classroom settings are given the opportunity to learn at their own pace and demonstrate their skills.
Forest schools are fun! It is every child’s right to have fun and playing in nature is full of fun and enjoyment. Climbing trees, building dens, playing in mud, splashing in puddles – you couldn’t ask for more child-centred fun! Kids who are given the chance to regularly play outdoors are observed to be generally happier and who doesn’t want their child to be happy?