The demand for nature schooling has exploded since lockdown. It’s largely an activity for the privileged few with one-day schools charging $50-100 per day. But some schools are embracing forest-based approaches to learning. TOP has blogged before about bringing nature play into the mainstream. For sure, the importance of outdoor play is well-known.
Even more concerning is a recent report that more than a third of primary and secondary school-aged kids do not clock up seven hours of exercise per week. Some children are getting plenty of exercise, but almost 20% are getting less than 3.5 hours per week. The minimum recommendation is 30 minutes per day. But to be effective, exercise for children needs to be a ‘quality’, positive experience. If we want them to develop a love of exercise, surely, we need them to first develop a love of the outdoors?
But what about Reading, Writing and Maths? How can they be learnt if children are climbing trees all day? Actually, nature play enhances these skills, by building both knowledge and competencies. It’s an And-And, not Either-Or approach to learning. “Boys who were formerly reluctant to write are now writing more readily because of the things they see in the bush. For example, if they come across a frog, they will identify it, photograph it on their iPad, read about its habits and then write a blog”, says Principal of Waikino Primary Schools, Joanna Wheway. Outdoor learning improves concentration and behaviour, positively impacts health and wellbeing, and improves teachers’ job satisfaction. ‘Going bush’ also offers authentic, real-world learning experiences, grows self-esteem, enables social collaboration, creates self-identity, enables mindfulness, provides opportunities for practical problem solving, and develops environmental consciousness. Children who play in nature learn to love nature, themselves, and each other. As learning is facilitated, their knowledge-base is also growing.
Yet, schools say the Education Review Office (ERO) don’t understand the Forest School approach to education. The Ministry of Education also seems to be behind-the-times. Although physical activity is considered a priority for primary schools, it is less clear what role nature plays in achieving this. Jumping around in a crowded classroom in front of a screen is vastly different to climbing a tree or running across a field from a child-development perspective.
TOP wants to enable schools to facilitate outdoor learning through discovery, experimentation, failure, and reflection. Education struggles to flourish under a system of regulation and compliance, especially outdoor education. So, TOP would gradually disband ERO and use the money to invest in coaching-style professional development for teachers across many areas of curriculum and pedagogy, including taking the curriculum outside.
We don’t pretend to have the expert answers to tell teachers how to teach. We certainly don’t see education as an opportunity for politicians to regulate, score political points, or tinker with a sector they don’t understand. Instead, TOP values teachers as skilled professionals who, with quality training, should be left to get on with their jobs.
By Dr Naomi Pocock (Education & Child Development Spokesperson for The Opportunities Party)
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