By Katherine Doolittle
4 Elements Earth Education
In case you’ve missed it, the data is showing up everywhere – if you want your child to be creative, intelligent, curious, grounded, and able to pay attention… get them outside! Not just in organized sports or a walk in the park, but get ‘em dirty, barefoot, and playing in nature.
This is as easy as it sounds. Walking barefoot (grounding or Earthing) is a new take on an old concept about the receptors in our feet connecting to our entire being. The Earth is an electrical planet and we are bioelectrical … so we and our children get an energy infusion directly from walking barefoot. Most of us no longer sleep on the ground or walk barefoot. Our connection to the Earth has been lost. Reconnecting can lead to better sleep and less stress. And for us older kids – it reduces inflammation (the electrons neutralize the destructive free radicals.)
On the benefits of outdoor play, author and clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison observes that outdoor play is multi-sensory… while outside, kids hear, smell, and touch things they normally wouldn’t during indoor play. So, they use their brains in unique ways and experience new stimuli. They can take lessons learned indoors (about seeds and plants, etc.) then touch and explore firsthand. Rocks, stone, and dirt offer limitless opportunities for play, where using the imagination is key. After unstructured outdoor play, kids become more relaxed, enjoy more freedom, their anxiety reduces; children with attention deficit disorders have been shown to focus better.
Jamison notes that outdoor play encourages children to comprehend what works and what doesn’t… hence they learn more about problem solving and leadership. They also develop respect through watching creatures in nature: a lady bug, baby bird, squirrel. Being closer brings connection. Connection brings empathy. Observance of patterns links curiosity – the veins in a leaf or feathers on a bird – and pattern recognition helps with math skills.
Research outcomes indicate that outdoor recreation increases quality of life, heightens social interaction, and increases life-span. It gives a better sense of well-being, reduces symptoms of depression, lowers rates of smoking and substance abuse, and increases functionality at school, home, and work.
And lastly, from a study of the long-term impact of sustained relationships between schools and outdoor experiences by Alan Peacock:
“We looked at whether school children’s learning about their local environment would influence the way they treat it. We found that not only was this the case, but high quality, out-of-classroom learning also influenced how children behave and the lifestyle choices they make. It shows the potential (of outdoor experiences) not just to change individual lives, but the lives of whole communities.”
Katherine Doolittle works for 4 Elements Earth Education in Nevada City, (home of the well-known Fox Walkers) which provides programs for children as young as age 4 years to be in nature and learn Earth Skills all year round. For public, private, and charter school students. Call 530.265.2036 or visit www.4eee.org