Forest Kindergartens have been popping up all over Europe and North America in the past 50 years or so. This style of education offers a solution to Nature Deficit Disorder as the children are outside for the majority of the day. Many parents are recognizing the benefits of being outdoors and are taking advantage of these Forest Kindergartens.
Some of the benefits include: better balance and agility, co-ordination, and depth perception. Studies have shown that children who are exposed to this style of learning are involved in fewer accidents due to their ability to set their own limitations and assess situations with caution and care. For instance, in allowing a child to climb a tree you are enabling them to discover their own limitations as well as their own abilities.
Some of the mental benefits include a higher concentration level, improvement in academics such as literature and mathematics, a higher level of knowledge of the Earth, being able to contribute to discussions and group activities, motivation, a sense of pride in their work, and music and art. Of course it is not simply their mental health that increases but their physical health as well. In the past decade, the benefits of connecting to nature have been well documented in numerous scientific research studies and publications. Collectively, this body of research shows that children’s social, psychological, academic and physical health is positively impacted when they have daily contact with nature.
“ As a summer student here at the KAN centre I’ve been able to witness and be a part of this style of not only educating but also nurturing the children. Each individual is valued for their uniqueness as well as their special gifts and talents they bring to the group. It is unlike other daycares in that the kids are allowed to explore so much more than they would regularly be allowed to. We as the adults are present more as a form of supervision and perhaps some guidance rather than to dictate. The “free range kids” here at the school and at the camps have a deep appreciation and respect for the environment as well as an impressive knowledge and understanding of the forest they are a part of.“
What is Nature Deficit Disorder?
Nature Deficit Disorder refers to the act of pulling further away from nature, and often opting for the more media driven world of electronics. Richard Louv wrote a book in 2005 called Last Child in the Woods where he explored NDD and its many repercussions. He says he “hesitated (briefly) to use the term; our culture is overwrought with medical jargon. But we needed a language to describe the change, and this phrase rang true to parents, educators, and others who had noticed the change. Nature-deficit disorder is not a formal diagnosis, but a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.” According to Louv there are 3 definitive explanations for NDD. The first being that parents are afraid for the safety of their children, that in suburban areas nature is difficult to find, and lastly that nature simply isn’t alluring enough to children anymore.
What are some of the effects that we have begun to see in our children and our youth because of this alienation? A few of the main issues are Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety, depression, obesity, and even diabetes. Studies also show that simply being still in nature reduces attention and stress disorders. Studies also show children who are able to interact with nature on a regular basis also are better rounded in terms of development of the whole person, as oppose to simply nurturing one aspect of the child. For instance, they are often able to reason better at a younger age, their comprehension levels are higher, and they often put more care into their work. On a less academic level they are often more thankful for the food they eat as they are able to see all the work that is involved, and gain a level of spirituality, or connection to the Earth.