Late last week I retweeted and commented on this photo from a kindergarten teacher. It seemed to resonate with people as they retweeted, liked and shared it. The original tweet showed a kindergarten student engaged in play with her shadow, trying out different poses on a beautiful sunny February day.
As I was walking down by the riverfront enjoying the unusually warm weather this weekend, I got to thinking about how much I enjoy using nature to help me stay calm. Even though I live in the city on a very small lot with almost no yard, I can easily walk to a nearby park or head down to the riverfront to destress.
I enjoy reading other teachers' blogs where they talk about heading to the forests, streams and other natural areas near their schools with their students. But as I walked along, with busy traffic on one side and green grass and the river on the other side, I wondered about our students in our highly urban schools with small playgrounds, often with lots of asphalt and very little green space. How can we help these students, who are often living in stressful environments, to connect with nature and use nature to self-regulate?
Certainly the student in the tweet above seems to be engaged in nature play even though there is no greenery in sight.
One of my favourite inner city nature lessons with kindergarten and primary students was to go outside and read "It Looked Like Spilt Milk" by Charles Shaw and then have the students find a comfy spot to lay down, look at the clouds in the sky and invite them to talk with someone nearby about what they saw. This was an activity they could return to later, on their own or with a classmate, and I found it was one way that students could find a way to engage in quiet solitary play even in a busy outdoor environment.
One blog I read listed a range of benefits to nature play including:
* Greater physical activity (4)
* Greater mental health and emotional regulation (4)
* Improvements in motor skills (4)
* Healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels (5)
* Being more fit and lean (6)
* Have stronger immune systems (6)
* Have more active imaginations (6)
* Play better with other children (6)
Children who help in school gardens improve in scientific learning and have healthier eating habits! (4) Just contacting nature (like seeing trees out your window) can reduce stress and lead to fewer illnesses. (2) (see references below)
How can we help students in highly urban schools connect with nature? Here are some overhead photos of some of urban schools for your inspiration:
|A former elementary school (now closed)|
|A newer downtown school|
1:Landscape as Playscape
2: Healthy Nature, Healthy People
3: Forest Schools In England and Wales
5: Children in The Outdoors
6: Quality Outdoor Spaces for Children
7: Back to School; Back Outside**
8: Education Scotland