Back to the Great Outdoors
by Rae Pica
Think back to your own childhood. Chances are, some of your fondest memories are of outdoor activities and places. Perhaps you had a favorite climbing tree or secret hiding place. Maybe you remember jumping rope or learning to turn cartwheels with your best friend, or playing fetch with the family dog. Do you recall the smell of lilacs, the feel of the sun on the first day warm enough to take off your jacket, or the taste of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich eaten on a blanket in the park? Did you enjoy lying on your back and finding creatures in the clouds?
A great many of today’s children will grow up without such fond memories because today’s children spend far less time outdoors than did previous generations. That means, too, that they may not be getting enough of the outside light, which stimulates the pineal gland, is vital to the immune system and simply makes us feel happier. Outside light triggers the synthesis of vitamin D. And studies have demonstrated that it increases academic learning and productivity.
We also need to consider that young children learn much through their senses, and the outdoors is a virtual wonderland for the senses. There are different and incredible things for the children to see (insects, clouds, and shadows), to hear (traffic sounds, birdsongs, leaves rustling in the wind), to smell (flowers and the rain-soaked ground), to touch (a fuzzy caterpillar or the bark of a tree), and even to taste (newly fallen snow, a raindrop, or a freshly picked blueberry). Children who spend much of their time acquiring experiences through television, computers, and even books are using only two senses (hearing and sight), and this can seriously affect their perceptual abilities. Additionally, much of this learning, which falls under the content area of science, can’t be acquired indoors. Nor can children who spend most of their time indoors be expected to learn to care for the environment.