Education: Let’s reconnect our children to nature

Journalist at Le Monde, author baby in nature (1) And Take the kids outside! (2), Moïna Fauchier-Delavigne explains why nature must be put back at the heart of children’s education, and gives us the keys to reconnecting young people to their environment.

Nature is no longer a part of children’s lives. Already in 2015, four out of ten children had never played outside on weekdays (3). According to a study published by the National Food Safety Agency in 2020, a sedentary lifestyle is exploding among 11-17-year-olds: 66% of them engage in less than 60 minutes of daily physical activity, however recommended by the World Health Organization. Why are young people replacing ride-hailing and outdoor toys with their beds and screens? What are the consequences of this development? Interview with Moïna Fauchier-Delavigne.

Leon Capitale: Today, children play outside less than old people. Some seem to have lost touch with nature. Do you share this note?

Moina Focher Delphine: Yes, and we can go further by saying that most young people are really cut off from nature. Teachers and educators tell many anecdotes about children with whom they come in contact who do not know that the stars really exist, who do not dare to walk barefoot in the grass, who have not jumped in a puddle, played with a stick or climbed a tree … all these experiences in Connecting with nature would have seemed obvious and natural to the previous generation. It now looks quite unusual in most children. Not to mention that this phenomenon worsens over time.

“Parents prefer to have their children at home to avoid what they see as potential dangers to the outside world…”

Why did young people stay away from nature?

Kids have a busy schedule, between school, homework and extracurricular activities. This leaves them with little free time to play outside in particular. They also have less freedom of movement than before. 40 years ago a CE1 child could go to school on his own, today it is unimaginable. There is also an obsession with no risk on the part of parents, teachers, principals, and mayors… Many sandboxes have been removed from school yards for health reasons, and parents also prefer to have their children at home to avoid what they see as potential dangers from the outside world… Screens are opportunities Much less to play outside. Not to mention the frequent confinement, which ended up taking the kids away from nature and anchoring them in their sedentary lifestyle.

What are the negative effects of this separation from nature on children’s development?

We often talk about the danger of being outside because we are afraid of physical accidents – a child can hurt himself with a stick or hurt himself by falling from a swing or from a tree … a screen, it’s dangerous! The child is already losing the experiences that support his physical and psychological development, and the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle are always disastrous, both in the short and long term. This causes problems with weight gain and myopia, slows down the development of physical abilities, motor skills … If a child does not move, in contact with natural elements, with other humans, this affects his well-being, perhaps, he cannot develop his social skills …

It is said that nature does good. What are its effects on the physical and mental balance of children?

When we are in a natural environment, our stress level decreases, we feel more at peace. A child who is allowed to live experiences in direct contact with nature – running down a grassy slope at full speed, falling, climbing trees… – will develop his confidence. Indeed, in this unartificial and complex environment, different from four very smooth walls without roughness, he will have to adapt, make decisions, test his limits and discover the consequences of his actions … On the contrary, the child who is the one who prohibits all these sensory and motor experiences receives the message implicit that he is unable. Moreover, the time spent outside presents many opportunities to be able to be admired, it is an opening to beauty, towards the aesthetics of everyday life. It is also an opportunity for real moments of joy and sharing.

“We can make time every day to observe the nature of proximity”

Contact with nature has positive effects on a child’s cognitive development. Can we consider being outside makes it possible to be better in class?

completely ! Being in nature is beneficial for learning and academic success. This is also proven by robust studies. Learning abroad allows you to be calmer, enhances attention, focus and memorization. It also calms relationships between children and adults. In Denmark, for example, 20% of kindergartens are schools in the forest. Pedagogy by its nature facilitates learning and extensive training plans have been made in this field for teachers and educators, in some countries such as Ireland or England since the 1990s. France, we are late, but the class abroad is developing rapidly, even in Lyon for that matter.

Being outdoors isn’t always easy, especially for young city dwellers. How can parents reconnect their child to nature?

We can take the time every day to notice the nature of closeness. It is quite possible, even if you live in the city. It is enough, for example, to stay on the way home from school to think of a little ant, and the sun is shining through the trees, and to look at the sky together, and a plant grows on your window sill … A great naturalist would share that with his children. On weekends, you can go for a walk in the park. That parents not hesitate to buy waterproof boots and pants for their children, so that they can play outside without restrictions, in all weather, jump in puddles, sit on the ground, fall and even in the mud. In France, we don’t dress children properly to let them play! During the holidays, you can plan to go for a long walk, camp, sleep under the stars … All these times are good for everyone, they are very important for the development of the child, they help to understand that he is an integral part of his environment, that all natural elements belong to his world. Parents can also educate teachers about the possibility of teaching abroad.

Do parents still have a role to play with their teenage children?

Even with teens, nothing is set in stone. While they generally enjoy the holidays provided by their parents, the connection to nature is mainly made through the activities they choose. It can be an opportunity for them to test their physical limits, to experience feelings of overcoming … Risk-taking, on the contrary, should not be prevented. They are necessary. Especially since the experience of nature allows you to know it better, to understand that all these elements are part of their world. Also, it will make them want to protect it.

1. Fayard Editions (2019)
2. Robert Lafont (2020) Releases
3. A report published in 2015 by the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance

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