Natural Learning

Earth Day is a week away, so I'll spend some time this week blogging about natural learning and using the natural world as our children's classroom.

I can think of no better classroom than the natural world. And on a warm April morning, an empty Cape Cod beach was the perfect classroom for family discoveries. Slowly emerging sandbars revealed sand dollars to marvel at, shells to be collected and saved for late-day painting projects, piping plover footprints to spot and track. Outside, at the ocean, barefoot in the sand, we enjoyed hours of connection with nature and with each other. Moving from individual sand-castle-building to collective rock-hunting, yesterday morning took on its own tidal rhythm for our family, replenishing us with sunshine and salty air.

In his popular book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, author Richard Louv states: "Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore, for learning and creativity." As parents, it is our responsibility to carve out this time in nature for our children, to value and prioritize it, not only to help spark our children's learning and creativity, but to help them to develop a deep appreciation for the natural world and their place in it. In Last Child in the Woods, and in his most recent book, The Nature Principle, Louv states that the rise in technology, the increasing digital influences that can both enhance and distract our days, require us to spend even more time in nature, more time disengaging from a wired world and reconnecting with a wild one.

It's not that we should be neo-Luddites, rejecting the good and powerful role of technology in our lives, but we should be mindful of how technology can make us more disconnected from nature and from each other. As Louv states in Last Child in the Woods: "The problem with computers isn't computers -- they're just tools; the problem is that overdependence on them displaces other sources of education, from the arts to nature."

It is up to us as parents to be watchful of creeping technological distractions, both for our children and for ourselves, that can minimize our family time outdoors, in nature. It is up to us to prioritize natural, unstructured, outside play for our children, to uncover the many lessons nature teaches us, and to strengthen our connection with the earth and each other.