- from The Advanced Montessori Method
Every once in a while I turn on a morning news program to “catch up” with the rest of the world. This morning, I heard an alarming statistic: only 6% of children ages 9-13 spend time playing outdoors aside from school. Calling it “Nature Deficit Disorder”, Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods, 2005), states that the deficit of time spent outdoors is resulting in a wide range of behavioral as well as spiritual problems in today’s children. Dr. Montessori knew this a century ago when she stated “How often is the soul of man - especially in childhood - deprived because he is not allowed to come in contact with nature?”
There seem to be two pronounced reasons for this nature deprivation. Firstly, we live in a world of fear; fear of strangers, fear of abductions, fear of terror. Louv argues that sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally "scared children straight out of the woods and fields," while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors "safe" regimented sports over imaginative play”.
Montessori Philosophy: Nature - Nurturer to the Whole ChildThe second is the amount of screen time that children are allowed to have. When I was a child, television was the lure. These days, we also have video games and computers. These children of the digital age have become alienated from the natural world. Virtual experiences and field trips have opened up a new technological world, but at the expense of children spending more hours inside, on the computer.
Well, you might say, that’s true in the city, but not in suburban and rural areas. Unfortunately, this is not the case. A recent study was published that shows that childhood obesity rates are increasing faster in rural areas than in cities and suburbs. The family farm is becoming less prevalent and those children are now inside watching TV, surfing the net, and playing video games. In fact, a 2005 Kaiser Foundation study found that “kids from the ages of 8 to 18 spend about six hours a day plugged into TVs, computers, video games and other media”.
What about organized sports? Louv argues that going to soccer (or baseball or basketball) practice once a week, or even three times a week doesn't compare to the way children used to just come home from school and go out and play. I remember rushing home so that I could ride my bike, roller skate or play tag with the neighborhood kids. Now the neighborhood we live in is silent after school, in the evening, and even during the summertime. I know there are children living here, but I never see or hear them. There are no spontaneous games of ball, there’s no bike riding, there’s no sound of children’s laughter. It’s hauntingly eerie, especially since we live ½ mile from both an elementary and middle school. There should be children and they should be out playing.
Today, it’s only recently that I allow my 12 year-old son to walk around the block to his friend’s house by himself. He takes our dog for a walk through our neighborhood, but is only allowed to go ½ mile away. We both know how long it takes and I worry if he’s gone too long. I know he is at the age where he needs more independence and so I allow him to go; that doesn't mean I don’t think about all that could happen in the short while he’s gone. His friends know that if they come over to play, they’re to play outside. We have basketball, badminton, baseball, archery, bicycles, Frisbees, and foam swords. They can catch bugs and butterflies, invent and create experiments like soda bottle rockets or insulation pipe roller coasters. The one thing they may not do is come inside to play passive video games. At first, it was hard to see their disappointment, but they've come to accept it and I enjoy watching them play outside. And you know what? They’re happy! They’re less stressed. They’re communicating with each other and learning about their natural environment.
Dr. Montessori said “But if for the physical life it is necessary to have the child exposed to the vivifying forces of nature, it is also necessary for his psychical life to place the soul of the child in contact with creation.” It should, therefore, be no surprise to Montessorians that scientists and psychologists are finding that children who are out and about in nature reap numerous benefits ranging from the reduction of symptoms of hyperactivity and ADD to more self-esteem and self-discipline. Studies show that conservation-minded adults have spent a considerable amount of time in the wilderness.
Montessori teachers know first-hand the importance of going out and exploring nature. The fresh air along with children's natural desire to explore their surroundings, is much more beneficial than staying inside the classroom. To delight in the wonder of the natural world at such a tender and impressionable age is to become a steward of the earth in the years to come.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Monday, July 21, 2008.