Children and nature go together—or should. Recent studies document the importance of introducing children to the natural world, beginning in the early years. Humans are hardwired to need nature—because we are part of it. We must do what we can to ensure that children have these opportunities.
There is a link between time in nature and personal well-being. The brain and the body’s five senses are designed to respond to the great outdoors, not to the monotony of being within the confines of the walls of a classroom. For children, time outside is an invaluable part of growing up. Unstructured free play, in which kids drive the activity, is essential for growing bodies and minds.
Being surrounded by nature and natural items provides infinite benefits to children, not only tremendous physical benefits but mental benefits as well. Nature instills in everyone a sense of beauty and calmness. It exposes us to things that are alive and growing and promotes curiosity and exploration. With an adult as a guide, children can learn about being gentle and respectful of living things. Self-esteem can thrive outdoors because nature doesn’t judge people. At a time when bullying is prevalent—even in preschools—exposure to nature can help remind children that the world contains an infinite variety of things and all are important. To observe nature requires patience and quiet watchfulness. Imagination comes into play as children create special places and use natural items to create stories and play. All senses become engaged when children interact with the natural world.
Intentionally selecting natural elements to invite children’s interest that will challenge and inspire children’s thinking with no set outcome. Rich discussions and experiences grow out of these starting points. For preschoolers, learning about what is in one’s own backyard is a great place to start. It is where children can get up close and personal with the environment. This kind of learning prepares children for the primary grades, when they will deepen their nature knowledge by learning about the world at large.
Bringing nature inside a classroom or creating an outdoor classroom is the antidote to the fast-paced, stressful world in which many young children live. Equally important, it encourages an appreciation of the natural world on which we depend. As a school, it our job to help children connect with nature in as many ways as possible. The primary benefit is that children become better observers and feel more connected to the outdoors. Children with challenging behaviors focus for extended periods of time when exposed to the natural world. Their curiosity is piqued by what is around them. All children of all ages can benefit from exploring and spending time in nature.
We are very fortunate to be partnering with Nature Explore in the design of our outdoor space and certified outdoor classroom. They listened to our plans and wishes and incorporated their years of experience into their design concept. We are eagerly awaiting approval of our special use permit from Saint Johns county to begin construction of this extraordinarily beautiful space.