According to the David Suzuki Foundation:
“Seventy percent of Canadian youth spends an hour or less playing outside each day, and more than seven hours in front of a screen. And yet, countless studies tell us that time outside makes children healthier, happier, more focused, more creative, more generous and, of course, better environmental stewards.”
Further, youth that spend time outside are 20% more likely to be engaged in nature based activities as adults.
In our rural communities I have to admit I secretly scoffed when I read this. Really? Where were the kids from? (Answer: every province and territory in Canada, but most respondents were from cities and suburbs). What age group? (Answer: between 13 and 20, but most respondents were female, aged 18-20). What were they doing outside? Well, of the 664 youth that were surveyed, only 35% of youth aged 13-15 reported that they spend time outdoors alone. Ahhh! No! Surely this can’t apply to our super outdoor based communities we have here? With all our trails, green spaces, ski school? Mountain biking, sailing, community gardens, canoe camps? I decided to track my own kids for a week. I manage a nature centre and environmental education program designed to get kids outside doing just that – connecting with nature. Gulp. My findings? My kids (6 & 8) were off the charts in this department compared to the study (I know, kind of like apples and oranges because of their age, BUT I was still happy with what I found until I dug deeper). They averaged 8.25 hours a day outside and roughly 1/2 hour a day of screen time through the week. I will admit they were “grounded” from Netflix for most of my survey, the weather was superb, and the garden was going through a harvest spurt. School was not in session and they were booked into Nature Camp 2 of those days (18 hours total outside time – score!) Oh – and we did a big all day hike into the alpine that week. Ok – note to self – measure again mid-October when they sit in a classroom for around 5 hours a day, and the weather is not as inviting. And it gets dark. Early. How will it look then? Or when they are older and more screen time is part of their “culture?” Sigh. Ok. Right. Focus on the now. For now, they are not made of sugar and they won’t melt. And they won’t turn into vampires once the sun sinks. And our garlic crop was good – just incase.
This is the thing. I write this in many of our grant applications, convincing our funders of the benefits of nature education.
Learning about nature, in nature, is an invaluable part of childhood and early adolescent development.
Engaging in environmental education and awareness has been shown to elevate environmental consciousness within a community (Smith & Williams, 1999) and nurture a deeper connection to nature (O’Sullivan, 2001). Taking the time to enjoy and learn about the outdoors is a great way to connect all ages to the life sustaining ecosystems in which they live, and promotes health and well-being on many levels. Nature based participatory learning helps children to understand and re-enforce a multitude of conventional school-based subjects, such as physics, biology, physical education, and social sciences. Providing outdoor learning opportunities also allows children the freedom to learn in a dynamic environment where they are free and encouraged to explore, question, and come up with their own unique observations. Engaging people of all ages with the nature in their backyard, an essential relationship particularly for young children has been slowly deteriorating in recent years (Sobel, 1995).
A plug. Stewardship Pemberton Society has been offering nature based environmental learning out of our One Mile Lake Nature Centre for the past three years (as well as other forms of outdoor learning for nearly a decade). We still have space in our Little Saplings outdoor play group for 3-5 year olds that runs Monday through Thursday from now until the end of November. They must be toilet trained as getting your diaper changed in a rainstorm on a bed of moss is not pleasant for some. We also offer Go Play Outside after school club, Tuesday to Thursday until the end of November. We keep the rates of our camps affordable so more kids can get outside (we actually just squeak by with most of our programs). Find out more and register for Nature Camps here….. We will close for winter, open back up in the early spring.
A call for action. As a community and a society, we need to encourage our schools to make outdoor classroom learning a high priority. Many months of the year, they have our kids for most daylight hours, 5/7 days of the week! Tell me I am not alone in worrying about their daily dose of Nature??! Get involved with your local Parent Advisory Council. Did you know that Pemberton Secondary School is trying to start an outdoor academy? Push their momentum over the edge and show your support. Talk to your kids teachers. Encourage them! Volunteer! Come up with some ideas. If you believe in this, let’s provide the opportunities for our kids outside of our outdoor-loving-mountain biking-mushroom pickin’-garden-crazy families. There are many amazing programs that schools and classes can participate in – and they STILL MEET THEIR FORMAL SCHOOL REQUIREMENTS. The excellent 30×30 Nature Challenge (complete with curriculum and resources) being just one of many.
Ummm…Sign up for Nature Camps here…. .
Celebrate with our community at our annual B.C. Rivers Day Sunday September 27th from 11-2pm at the One Mile Lake Nature Centre – a free community event that has tonnes to offer (and it counts as 3 hours outside for the whole family, but hey, who is counting?).
I know my kids have their happiest moments outside!
O’Sullivan, Edward. 2001. Transformative Learning: Educational Vision for the 21st Century. 259-281.
Smith, Gregory and Williams, Dilafruz. 1999. Ecological Education in Action: On Weaving Education, Culture and the Environment. 1-17.
Sobel, David. 1995. Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education. In:Orion 14:4. pp.11-17