Saturday, September 12, 2009

What's Keeping Kids Inside

With the constant push for making the grade on standardized tests, recess is being reduced and at times eliminated from the daily schedule. At our school, language arts fills two hours, plus 20 minutes for spelling and word study, then an hour for math. At least 30 minutes for social studies or science and lately science is being edged out altogether because it's not tested at all grade levels. Then there are specials - art, music, or PE and finally lunch. Sometimes there's just no room for recess.

At home, there's plenty to keep kids indoors. TV, video games, and computers take up a good deal of time. Our students live in an urban environment and parents don't feel it's safe to allow children to be outside unsupervised. Many children have a sedentary lifestyle and just don't have the interest in going outside. Because children haven't spent much time in unstructured play, they may not have the social skills necessary to play without an adult present. As a result, spending time enjoying nature is not a priority for parents or children.

Outdoor education, whether in school or through special programs, teaches children how to get in touch with nature. They can learn science concepts through hands-on experiences in a natural environment, and most importantly, students can develop a life-long love of nature by learning about the life that is present there.

No Time for Recess

This week, first graders went into the school garden to collect samples of living things. Our mission was to define what living means. I was very careful to teach and demonstrate how to gather the living things. If students wanted to collect a leaf, I showed them it was best to take one from the ground instead of pulling it from the plant. If students wanted an insect in their collection, I said look for one that was already dead instead of taking a live specimen.

The children did an excellent job in collecting their samples. Once in the classroom, the student partners, spread their examples on the carpet in a neat row. We talked about why these things would be classified as living. They said things like-- they grow, they change, and they need air, light, and food. One student said, living things don't have to be green. Another student said, they don't have to be plants. We were finally able to make a good definition of living things by sorting and classifying our samples from the garden.

When I was about the leave the class, the teacher pulled me aside and whispered--"They're just so happy to be able to go outside. Thank you! On Tuesdays we don't have time for recess!" Not only do living things need light and air, but so do six year olds! I think outdoor education not only teaches important science and ethical concepts, but it takes kids outside, into the natural environment to stay in contact with nature and teaches them how to love it gently and respectfully.