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Children Learning Naturally

december 20, 2007

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“Children have a natural affinity towards nature. Dirt, water, plants, and small animals attract and hold children’s attention for hours, days, even a lifetime”
— Natural Learning, Robin C. Moore and Herb H Wong
How do we expect children raised by computers, indoor classrooms, and blacktop playgrounds to feel any connection to the earth or care about sustainability as they grow into adults? And how do we expect these children to be happy and healthy spiritually, mentally, or physically?
Conventional education is too separate from the natural world and the natural inclinations of children. Many schools, however, are mending this disastrous gap. The New Day School in Portland, Oregon is one of these admirable schools. This school for 2 through 6-year-olds has their own interactive gardens.“The children are part of the garden cycle,” explains Maitri of New Day, “From these activities, many deep conversations happen around the topics of life and death, food growing and health, other beings in the creative world above, on, and under the ground.” The children are involved in every sort of gardening activity, from planting to watering, weeding, mulching, applying homemade compost from their compost and worm bins, harvesting and clean-up.Gardener David conducts a class once a week with each of the school’s four classrooms, including hands-on experience with the garden outside, and indoor classrooms involving plant uses like teas, salve, and dyes. Children also sample different edible herbs and flowers from the garden, and are encouraged to turn rocks and logs to see what’s underneath.Many of the plants in the garden attract insects, so “children can experience close encounters with the winged or crawling creatures,” explains Maitri. The kids go outside at least once every day, rain or shine.

Indoor classroom materials include natural objects like small stones and shells, which have multiple uses and encourage kids’ natural imaginations.

This school also respects the hard work of the teachers, with an onsite cob sanctuary that was built to provide a quiet place for teachers on break. This beautiful cob structure is also used as a special story-telling place for the kids.

As Richard Louv explains in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder: “An increasing number of parents and a few good schools are realizing the importance and the magic of providing hands-on, intimate contact between children and nature as a large part of children’s education.”

As Louv shows in his book, studies have shown that children diagnosed with ADHD or depression are improved tremendously through daily contact with the natural world. The same goes for schools that cater to children’s natural inclinations, as oppose to the conventional school curriculum which bores kids out of their minds! Is there really something wrong with a little kid who cannot sit still for 6 hours a day under fluorescent lights, indoors, forced to do abstract assignments, or is there something wrong with the system?

This movement towards experiential, place-based education is mostly a grassroots effort in the USA; Louv points out that most current progress in education is coming from “principals, teachers, parents and community volunteers. Committed individuals and service organizations can accomplish a great deal…”

Source: http://www.ecospace.cc/children-school-environment

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