Thursday, May 12, 2016

Kids Need Wilderness & Adventure to Stimulate Their Brains

I try and take my son hiking, and expose him to the benefits of the great outdoors every chance that I get. This is because I truly believe there are wonderful benefits from this that far transcend a simple, pleasant afternoon out. It stimulates a child's imagination, as well as connects them to what used to be our surroundings.

Usually, when the idea of going for a hike is mentioned, my son is reluctant, and often even tries to get out of it. This is a little puzzling, because once we are there, usually he gets very excited, jumping onto and off of boulders, collecting walking sticks, slamming these sticks into trees, throwing sticks and stones as far as he can into the woods, playing with water, finding ways to splash around, climbing rocks, etc.. There are literally no limits to what he can do to enjoy the outdoors, and he always has a blast.

Not only is it fun for him, but I strongly suspect that it is good for him as well. And in this world, it seems that we are doing everything possible to lose that precious, even crucial, connection to where we come from, and what we are still very much a part of, even if we have largely lost sight of this obvious fact.

For the most part, I think that we in this culture have tried, rather pointlessly, to separate ourselves from the wilderness, or nature, in this world. It seems to me that many people almost make a point of avoiding it, for reasons that remain mysterious to me.

Case in point, I see a lot of classrooms in a lot of schools with the window shades drawn, and the artificial, neon lights serving as the only illumination.

Now, while I can understand and even appreciate when teachers answer with suggestions that it is difficult enough to capture the kid's attention to begin with, and that their minds will tend to wonder if they have a clear view of the outside, it still seems to me somehow stifling and counterproductive to shut the entire world out, so that the kids supposedly have an easier time focusing on the lesson being taught on a given day.

The fact of the matter is that our approach in this regard seems to reflect our values, which is to say a humorless, business only approach. Many schools began to cut down on "wasteful" activities, such as recess, although studies have actually shown that the more playtime children get, the more positively active their brains are, because they are engaged.

I am a believed in this, and this is due to my own personal experience. In the woods, your senses feel as if they sharpen. Visually, it might be pleasing to see lush, green surroundings on hikes, but you also begin to notice more things. And other senses really feel stronger, including the sense of hearing, since everything is magnified in the woods, as well as your sense of smell. You just notice things more when removed from the artificially controlled world of our culture. Hell, it even enhances our sense of taste, as food seems to taste better, more pronounced when eating outside!

Kids seem to absorb everything, and if all that we provide for them is a dulled down world with no outdoors, and no sense of risk or adventure, then what we will eventually produce are dulled down adults, in every sense of that word.

Indeed, kids need the outdoors. They need that play time, and what they do not need is the excessive sheltering that they are given, particularly here in the United States. Too often, recess is essentially cancelled when it is a little cold, rainy, or snowy out. Why? I can understand if the conditions are truly treacherous or extreme, but if it is manageable, even if it is cold, why prevent kids from going outside for recess?

We should be encouraging more outside time, and more exposure to our natural world, not less of it. One of the biggest thrills for kids when I was growing up were those rare classes when we went outside. Sometimes, the weather was so beautiful, that the teacher would bring the classroom outside, so we could all enjoy it. I remember a science class when we went out looking for insects or leaves, I do not remember which. All I know is that the kids came alive, and it was plain to see that they were engaging and learning about things with a real sense of wonder, able to see for themselves some aspects of how this world works, and the wonders within.

It seems that we are always learning new things about how things work, and this includes how kids are learning. For some reason, it surprised many people that kids would learn better if they received more free time to play during recess, even when our own cultural values here in the United States seemed to be leaning towards being dismissive of recess as wasteful time. Turns out that it is far from the case, that this is perhaps the most active time for children, as it fosters creativity.

Let us learn these lessons and implement them for better results in our education system. Finland has done this, and they shot up to the top of the rankings worldwide when it comes to education. We could certainly do worse than learn some lessons of our own, and implement this one, simple change, at the very least.

And to the extent possible, let us also make sure to expose kids to the natural environment that surrounds us and, lest we forget, that we ourselves are a part of.

Why Kids Need Wilderness And Adventure More Than Ever by: Brynn Schmidt

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