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How children can learn through nature

Andy Swain, Managing Director of SAS Shelters, discusses the importance of nature and outdoor play for children

Posted by Joe Lawson-West | September 07, 2017 | Teaching

While the “real-world” stories of Enid Blyton showed children being given an unusual degree of freedom even for the time in which they were written (the mid 1930s to the mid 1960s), it is absolutely true to say that children have been spending less and less time outdoors since the time in which her stories were set.  There are many reasons for this, including the obvious one that the number of cars on the road has increased hugely, making it both more difficult and more dangerous to cross them and the fact that home entertainment options have progressed from the radio, cards and board games to the plethora of options we enjoy today.

Nature has become domesticated

Look back to the stories of Enid Blyton and the vast majority of people lived in houses.  Again, it has to be noted that her stories were somewhat unrealistic even for the time, but it is true to say that the rise in the numbers of people living in flats began around the 1920s and increased in the 1940s before really beginning to grow in the 1960s.  Now, flats are an integral part of the UK’s urban landscape and modern family houses have shrunk along with their gardens.  Instead, there are an increasing number of communal recreational spaces such as play areas, but it may be impractical for children to go to these areas without adult supervision, which means that, with the best will in the world, children’s outdoor play can end up being sacrificed to the practicalities of balancing work and running a home.  Adults may do what they can to bring the outdoors in by creating indoor gardens and encouraging children to play games set in the natural world, but the simple truth of the matter is that while this may be better than nothing, the real benefits of nature can only be fully experienced by getting out and about in it.

What nature does for children (and adults)?

The first and possibly most visible benefit, of getting out and about outdoors is the fact that it helps to get people fit.  Over recent years, there has been growing concern about the fact that many children are leading increasingly sedentary lives.  Long gone are the days when young people went everywhere either on a bicycle or on foot (accompanied by a dog).  These days children are spending more and more time in cars or on public transport.  Hence it has become hugely important for them to be given the opportunity and encouragement to take exercise in other ways as much as they possibly can.  The second, key, benefit of getting children (and indeed adults) out into the natural world, is that it is of significant benefit to their mental health.  Urban living can have many benefits, but even people who enjoy it over all can find certain elements of it very stressful, such as the fact that, by definition, urban environment are crowded ones and sometimes people really need the benefit of physical space to rebalance their mental space.

The particular importance of nature and outdoor play for children

Our childhood lifestyle has a huge influence on our adult lives.  Children who are given the benefit of outdoor play in a natural environment not only enjoy better fitness and mental health during their growing years, but enter the adult world physically and mentally stronger and hence better prepared to deal with the challenges it poses.

SAS Shelters is a family-run business specialising in the design, manufacture and installation of a variety of products for schools including  school canopies, shelters, walkways and playground shades

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