“Wisdom begins in wonder.” – Socrates
God gives us so much evidence of Himself through nature that is around us. Children understand this. If you spend any time with a child outdoors, they revel in a small wiggly worm, an acorn found on the ground, a small bug crawling on the tree, the mist of rain, or the feel of the breeze on their face. There is a quote that says, “As a painting reveals the existence of the artist, creation reveals the existence of the Creator.” Part of our job as believers is to take care of our world. To do this well, we need to understand and appreciate creation. One way we can foster this is to immerse our children in the outdoors. Exposure to nature has been shown to be critical to our physical, social, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual health. Research has shown that the outdoor classroom encourages creativity and problem solving, boosts academic growth, and fosters curiosity and wonder. Let us all enjoy the wonder and awe of our Creator.
Friedrich Fröbel, a German educator, opened the world’s first outdoor “kindergartens” (German for “children’s gardens”) more than 150 years ago. He believed young children should spend their time playing in nature and away from so much emphasis on learning letters and numbers. Today, across Europe, thousands of these “forest kindergartens” have been established where children spend their entire class time outdoors year-round.
Our nature school is play-based and allows children to develop their skills and habits over time and at their own pace. Children learn naturally to be self-motivated, cooperative, respectful, grateful, and aware of their impact on the earth. Children experience outdoor adventures in all weather conditions. There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. The nature school is made as safe as is reasonably possible, to facilitate children’s risk-taking. It provides a complete immersion in nature helping to build a child’s sense of place in the world.
Research strongly supports the idea that young children, particularly ages 3-5, learn best through direct experiences with the world around them. Being outdoors provides them with not only fresh air, but it also encourages imaginative play, creativity, hand-eye coordination and balance, physical strength, and mental clarity. By tapping into their innate sense of wonder about nature, we can help children learn basic environmental and natural science principles, as well as respect for all living beings. Lessons flow organically from the natural rhythms of the seasons and from the children’s daily discoveries. There are no set lesson plans: each day is shaped by the animals, insects, birds, amphibians, weather and foraging that is encountered, providing spontaneous teachable moments.
According to a study carried out by the National Wildlife Federation, students who spend regular time in unstructured outdoor play are more creative, better problem solvers, and better able to concentrate. Studies confirm access to nature in an educational setting has a positive impact on student focus and learning by improving attentiveness, future test scores and performance.