Outdoor Education: Why Kids Need to Get Outside!
With the vast changes in technological advancements, children’s means of social interaction has taken a turn. Regular hours of unsupervised outdoor play have been slowly replaced by tv screens, video games, and social media addictions. We know that when time for outdoor play is diminished, it contributes to more sedentary lifestyles, isolation, and disconnect from the natural world. Waterford Country School recognizes the integral importance of outdoor education for young children’s healthy growth. So, why do kids need to interact with nature?
1. Limits Screen Time
In an age where technology seems to consume society, research indicates children now demonstrate a decrease in social interactions outside of screen time. New software developments add new dimensions of information and keep children from playing outdoors. The resource center of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website states that kids spend more than seven hours a day in front of a screen. All dimensions of technology- whether it’s the television, computer, or the smartphone- inhibits a child’s development. Venturing outside keeps children engaged and boosts their overall health. Stepping outside allows children to distance themselves from the addictive nature of television and video games.
2. Social Benefits
If children are spending 7 plus hours a day watching a screen, who are they interacting with? Such an amount of time spent interacting with solely an electronic device impacts the social skills of the next generation. It keeps them isolated or even worse, communicating with others in forums that create an air of isolation and anonymity. When kids step outside, they get plenty of opportunities to interact with other peers. You would be surprised how many times a struggling student in our program connects with one of our animals first… in turn ends up with the opportunity to connect with the staff and their peers. Connecting with others, helping someone or something, solving problems together – valuable life skills our children learn in nature. One of the main principles of the CARE Model is that we are Relationship Based. We have seen such an impact on our student’s abilities to grow in their relationships when we test these skills in the Great Outdoors.
3. Physical & Mental Health
Between the singing birds, buzzing bees, beautiful sunsets, or watching waves crash in the ocean, children learn to step back and appreciate their surroundings. No electronic device can replace the natural association with Mother Nature. Daily time with nature has both mental and physical benefits. Kids who play more in the natural world fall sick less often than those kids who are restricted to indoor spaces. Regular exposure to the outside world boosts one’s immune system. Research indicates that playing outdoors can improve mood, reduce depression, and reduce mental fatigue. Regular outdoor play also increases flexibility and gross motor skills. Outdoor exercise has proven to help students with their academic life by improving concentration levels. Most of the students in our program are struggling with some degree of mental or physical health. Waterford Country School has seen a dramatic decrease in the need for psychotropic medications in our students. The daily sessions of working on the farm, walking from school to dorm or caring for our animals have helped some students drop extra weight and become healthier as a whole.
4. Promotes Self-Confidence
Whether it’s caring for the animals on the farm, fishing at Waterford Country School’ s Lake Cuheca, going for a hike on the nature trails or climbing on the Ropes Challenge Course, there are infinite ways to interact with outdoors on our campus. When we grant the youth the independence of time in nature, youth learn that they hold the ability to control their own actions. Nature can serve as a great healing tool for children who suffer from low self-esteem. Exposure to the natural world links kids with a greater degree of self-control, peace, and discipline. We have seen so many students come to us angry, oppositional and defiant and watched what happened as we kept changing their environment to suit their individual needs and strengths. When the approach is Developmentally Focused and Ecologically Oriented (two more principals of the CARE Model), we find ways to help students grow in leaps and bounds. Soon every challenge that is met is a cause for celebration.
5. Intellectual Benefits
Nature provides a buffer from stress. Nature allows children to think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways. Nature provides more stimulation- through sights, smells, sounds, and touch – thus increasing the richness of human experience. Being able to solve problems on their own and the ability to take calculative risks when needed will boost self-esteem and intellectual curiosity. As a matter of fact, kids who are regularly exposed to the natural world are found to be more resilient to high-stress circumstances.
Waterford Country School strives to do “whatever it takes” to enrich the lives of struggling children and their families. Since 1922, we’ve been blessed to be able to use our 320-acre campus to our advantage in our services to these families. Students gain social, emotional, cognitive, and intellectual skills on top of learning how to care for the environment. At Waterford Country School, where both children and animals come to find hope, nature is our greatest teacher.