Take a moment to reflect on a special place from your childhood.
Nine times out of ten, when I ask an adult this question, the place that comes to mind is somewhere outdoors.
Why? What is it about these childhood experiences in natural places that give them such enduring power? Maybe it's the sensation of awe you remember, or a feeling of calm. Maybe it's the sense of freedom and adventure that being outdoors as a child represented.
Whatever it is, these early experiences with nature have the power to be transformational.
Now take a moment to think about children today. How many of them are having these same types of experiences?
Studies show the majority are not. In fact, the average child now spends just three to seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play. This may seem like a trivial generational difference, but the consequences are dire.
The combination of increasing academic demands, more scheduled extracurricular activities, parental anxiety, and a dramatic rise in the amount of time spent on electronic devices has led to a generation of young children who rarely spend time outdoors. At the same time, rates of childhood obesity and ADHD are skyrocketing, as are diagnoses of sensory processing, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
Experts agree that "Nature Deficit Disorder" and the decline of early childhood nature play are serious contributing factors to these conditions, all of which translate to challenges at home and in the classroom. We've seen clear declines in student outcomes and in the quality of life of children, parents, and educators alike. Children deserve a childhood filled with wonder, awe, and authentic play. And you deserve to feel confident and energized, not guilty and burnt out.
The good news is that in the majority of situations, some simple, common-sense tweaks are all it takes to get joyful, developmentally appropriate learning back on track.
Going back to basics and getting children outdoors on a regular basis to participate in nature-based play has a number of core benefits, including:
Higher long-term academic achievement and executive functioning as a result of the self-control and problem-solving practiced through play.
Lower rates of behavioral problems and attention deficit disorders - as Forest Kindergarten expert Erin Kenny said, "children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls.”
Improved gross and fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and balance as a result of frequent, vigorous outdoor activity.
Greater independence and self-confidence stemming from frequent opportunities for children to learn what their bodies are capable of and to assess risk through play.
And children aren't the only ones who benefit! Teachers who spend more time outdoors are more enthusiastic about their work and more innovative in their teaching strategies, and across the board, adults who spend time in nature report feeling happier and more relaxed.
Best of all, outdoor exploration is possible virtually anywhere, and at almost no cost.
You might be wondering, “if all this nature stuff is so great, why isn’t everybody doing it?”
The problem is that in today’s high-tech, fast-paced world, it can feel impossible to slow down, disconnect, and get outside. There’s so much pressure on keeping up with Joneses or aligning with Common Core standards that advocating for a simpler way can feel radical, and a little scary.
My goal with Wonderkin is to give parents and educators the tools they need to feel confident and empowered in getting kids back outdoors and connected to nature.
Many businesses operate through fear, or by creating a reliance that keeps their customers coming back again and again. Our goal is the opposite. While we do supply physical products designed to make life easier for parents and educators, what we’re really trying to provide is a mindset shift. We don’t want our customers to be reliant on us forever. My hope is that our offerings will serve as a bridge to a “new normal,” where nature play is taken for granted as a core element of any early childhood experience, whether at home or at school.
I want our customers to feel confident facilitating outdoor play and learning experiences. I want them to build a deep personal connection with the natural world that will be a source of peace and happiness and sustain them in challenging times. I want spending time outside to become so second nature that it seems ridiculous that they’d ever need to pay for support to help them do it.
Simply put, I'll know we’ve been successful when there’s no longer a demand for our products.
See more at wonderkin.com or on social media @WonderkinBox