Students, parents, and educators have headed back to school with the excitement of new beginnings, but with COVID-19 as an unwanted, yet pervasive presence. Anxiety and trepidation of what is to come, continues to be the background noise. Never has there been a need for positive, proactive practices to deal ensure mental health and engagement of our school aged children. A broadening range of research studies are showing the importance of including a daily dose of nature in your back-to-school routines.
Richard Louv uses the comparison of nature as an essential vitamin to combat what he calls, “nature-deficit disorder”. This is not a medical diagnosis but a metaphor to illustrate the problems emerging from populations, particularly children, experiencing a societal disconnect from the natural world. There is a significant body of research now focusing on the positive experience of time outdoors in nature to improve physical and mental health, as well as social bonding and creativity. This research is readily supported by how much better we feel after going for a walk, a game of golf or tennis, or drinking in a sunset.
As a very beginning step, educators and parents are encouraged to pause to insert daily time outdoors. Organized sport and outdoor recess and lunch may be part, but not all this time allotment. I am talking about the time where you go outside and pause to notice – the weather, the trees, and the birds, using all of your senses.
Your first task is to register that that time in nature is important. Parents may walk to school with their kids and talk about the flowers and foliage that you pass en-route. Teachers may meet their students after recess and go for a neighbourhood walk. As Dr. Banack states, “while the park is the destination, it is the journey to the park, of picking up pebbles, looking at flowers, and finding sticks, that enlivens and binds the journey.”1 As a principal, I frequently talked with students, staff, and parents, as we walked through the neighbourhood. The walking and the time in nature allowed highly charged emotions an outlet and for conversations to assume a focus on problem solving. Richard Louv’s book, Vitamin N, provides an abundance of ways to engage outdoors with a focus on families. The work of Dr. Hart Banack, Assitant Professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, and Gillian Judson’s book, The Walking Curriculum, provide many ways for teachers to regularly engage students outdoors. The goal for September, is to establish outdoor time as a routine activity for children at home and at school.
Hartley Banack & Iris Berger (2018). The emergence of early childhood education outdoor programs I British Columbia: a meandering story. Tandfonline.com
Gillian Judson (2018). A Walking Curriculum: Evoking Wonder and Developing Sense of Place.
Richard Louv (2016). The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life. Vitamin N. 500 Ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community.