Are your children receiving the most benefits from a well-balanced education including P.E., Music, and Art? Do you know how these affect academic learning? Is organized sports and normal gym classes the most beneficial way to receive physical education? This is my final discussion on Richard Louv ’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (LC).
I have had many parents, particularly those who homeschool (but also those in national schools), write me about the challenges of finding ways to involve their children in physical education and the arts. On the other hand, I know parents, teachers, and schools who believe that these are not critical components of a good education. In my other articles on getting back to nature, I pointed out how Louv made a great case for getting kids outside and into nature more. He also reports on research showing that kids who studied the arts for at least four years scored higher on the math and verbal sections of the SAT. At the same time, many school districts are dropping environment-based and arts programs in a return to the basics. Louv stresses that proponents of returning to teaching the arts have shown how the arts and music “stimulate learning in math and science.” Furthermore, he says that “an argument can now be made that nature education stimulates cognitive learning and creativity, and reduces attention deficit” (p. 138 LC).
For homeschooling families looking to include more physical education into your program, I want to emphasize that to receive the benefits Louv shares in his book, the P.E. would need to come in the form of more time in natural play–particularly in green spaces. While gymnastics and sports clubs have their places in terms of helping children and adult stay in shape, they are not as beneficial to mental restoration as physical exercise out in nature. Bicycling, running, playing at the park, and taking your kids hiking are great ways to help them get physical fitness and reap the benefits of being out in nature. On pages 169-174 of Last Child in the Woods, Louv offers some great tips for nurturing constructive boredom and “structuring unstructured time.”
In 2003, Finland scored higher than 31 other countries, including the United States, in literacy, math, and science. Louv says that “Finnish educators believe in the power of–get this–play,” and Finland allows teachers great “leeway in how they teach.” Students are allowed 15 minutes of outside playtime after every 45 minute lesson (pp. 205-206 LC). Louv also believes that “environment-based education can surely be one of the antidotes to nature-deficit disorder.” This type of system would use nature and places out in the community as the “preferred classroom.”
Many homeschool families are actually quite good at offering their kids outside playtime, however, just like the need for classroom teachers to be intentional, even homeschool families fall into routines that keep them indoors. Some families do well in the U.S. but then move to countries overseas where finding a green place or a child-friendly place outside is challenging. Most often, though difficult, it is not impossible to find a place but may take more time and intentionality.
In Last Child in the Woods, Louv presents research showing how schools using model environment-based programs, produce students who score better on standardized tests, have higher GPA’s, and “develop skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making” as well as students who “typically out-perform their peers in traditional classrooms” in terms of reading skills (p. 206-207 LC).
Towards the end of his book, Louv quotes part of one of my favorite Bible verses, the 23rd Psalm:
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. (NIV 1984)
And, finally, in his addendum on pages 360-385, he offers 100 actions to stimulate you and your child’s creativity in nature. The first one involves buying a truckload of dirt (in some places as cheap as a video game) and a bucket and shovel for your kids to spend time playing in. The list offers some fun and amazing things to do in nature. You have heard about the iPod . . . let Louv introduce you to the nPod.
For a devotional on the 23rd Psalm, click here.
To find out how marriage is like P.E. and art, click here.
For previous Back to Nature articles, see the following:
Back to Nature, part 1 (Intro to “Last Child in the Woods”).
The Nature Zone. (A Review of Louv’s book: “The Nature Principle”).
Or, on Delana’s World, read:
Less Traveled Road (An adventure story in Central Asia).
Hit The Bunny Trail (A story about running in nature.)