Learning Outdoors: A Ticket to Healthier and Happier Children

By Canopy Team on August 14, 2020

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Another Look at Indoor Learning

Written by Ruth Greenfield

The age-old lament that – kids these days don’t spend as much time outside as they used to – has suddenly become more real than ever. With public health safety mandates to shelter at home, and without the ability to attend classes in person, kids are no longer walking or biking to school, enjoying outdoor recess, or attending after-school sports practices. Instead, many are inside for the majority of the day as their parents adapt to the multifold lifestyle changes that life during the pandemic requires. As outdoor time falls away, screen time replaces it: with kids now using screens for both entertainment and education. Online resources are the most reliable way for teachers to stay in contact with their students, and they have proven to be an excellent tool to keep up with education remotely. But what are the impacts of spending so much time inside with a screen?

Countless studies point to the importance of spending time outdoors for people of all ages. A study that compares outdoor schools to traditional schools concluded that young students who spent more time in natural environments were significantly better equipped to deal with stressful events in their lives. In other words, outdoor play and learning alone moderated the negative effects of stressful events. By contrast, they found that less access to nature or green space can negatively affect a child’s wellbeing and ability to cope with adversity. 

Trees and nature are known to have numerous mental health benefits and can help children relax and de-stress. Losing regular access to the outdoors can have a particularly significant impact during times of high stress, which many people are currently experiencing. When they stay inside, kids lose a wonderful place for play and an important outlet for stress relief.

Interaction with nature at an early age is also well-correlated with future environmental concern and activism. Developing a sense of wonder through natural exploration and play is key to piquing a child’s interest about and love for the world around them. This connection has powerful implications for the future.  Today’s youth are growing up in a world that faces increasingly complex environmental challenges. The prospect of the next generation helping to take on the mantle of tackling these challenges fills many with hope, and is more likely to become a reality if we raise children who love nature. 

Let’s Get Outside!

To encourage a child’s development as an environmental steward, and to promote the importance of good mental health, we should make sure that children are spending time outside! Whether it be for relaxation, play, or learning, time spent in nature is beneficial for young people.

Wondering what to do outside with your kids? Canopy is here to help! Canopy has resources for students, teachers, and parents, including several lessons and activities designed to get kids outside and get them learning and thinking about trees. The lessons adhere to California educational standards and are excellent tools for teachers and students alike. They aim to spark curiosity, encourage scientific observation and thinking, and connect the natural world to our everyday lives. 

Canopy also has extra activities that aim to help kids connect to and have fun with trees. These crafts and games include tree word searches, a “spreading smiles” nature challenge, a tree breathing exercise, leaf rubbing art, and a simple transpiration experiment. By going outside and playing games that are rooted in the natural world, kids will form a stronger bond with the world around them. The activities are designed to spark interest and generate love, and then––once kids are interested––incorporate thought and learning. As John Burroughs, an active American naturalist and conservationist in the early 1900s, cautioned, “Knowledge without love will not stick. But if love comes first, knowledge is sure to follow.” 

Canopy always endeavors to center the love of nature in all that we do, as do many other wonderful organizations that likewise seek to educate and inspire. It’s hard not to love nature when practicing fun, at-home science experiments like those offered by CuriOdyssey, learning about “squirrel highways” and getting up close with nature in summer camp mini-videos from Save the Bay, and writing nature poems and meeting a tree with Sharing Nature. Try any or all activities that catch your eye to infuse your days with more wonder, curiosity, and of course, nature. 

Ruth Greenfield is a summer Education Fellow intern with Canopy. Ruth just finished her freshman year at Tufts University, where she’s planning to double major in Political Science and Child Studies & Human Development. Growing up in Palo Alto, Ruth has often joined her family on Canopy volunteer days. She’s excited to be more involved with Canopy this summer, pursuing her interest in environmental education by helping develop educational materials.

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