In the Fall 2011 issue of The American Journal of Play, there is an interview with Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) and Cheryl Charles (Louv's partner in launching the No Child Left Inside initiative in 2006). From Charles: "There is ample evidence that when children experience structured and unstructured learning within a school's curriculum, and beyond that, unstructured play in nature-based settings, a host of benefits results — increased achievement on standardized measures, less bullying, more positive teacher attitudes, and more cooperation and creativity among students, to name a few."
Developing a relationship with the natural world through ample time to play in nature is one of the most important values of Opal School. This time for play and exploration support two more of our goals for students:
Develop an understanding of our interdependent relationship with the natural world.
Take action as mindful citizens who care about making contributions to a future that acknowledges living systems as an integrated whole.
Here is further support for this emphasis — I'll continue to borrow from the article:
"Nature-deficit disorder is a disorder of society, because it shapes adults, families, whole communities, and the future of our stewardship of nature. If nature experiences continue to fade from the current generation of young people, and the next, and the ones to follow, where will future stewards of the earth come from?" (Louv)
"Human beings exist in nature anywhere they experience meaningful kinship with other species. By this description, a natural environment may be found in a wilderness or in a city. We know this nature when we see it." (Louv) "Realizing that one can find nature nearby is a wonderful, inspirational, and often life-changing concept." (Charles)
"The decline in children' independent playtime – as childhood has become increasingly regulated by adults – parallels the human disconnection with nature. Nature experiences – particularly when they're part of independent play – contribute to a sense of wonder and awe. That's the greatest gift we can give our children." (Louv)
"Nature play is critical through all of the phases of childhood. For the youngest children, beginning with infants, nature stimulates the imagination and provides a basis for recognizing patterns. Toddlers and young children learn empathy and bonding with other life-forms through nature play. The middle years provide opportunities to take appropriate risks, expand the play territory, and learn critical skills." (Charles)
"Studies of creativity show that kids who play in natural or naturalized play areas are far more likely to invent their own games and far more likely to play cooperatively. Children who have nature-play experiences also test much higher in science.* We have learned that children who evolve as leaders in flat, hard surfaced play areas tend to the strongest, while the leaders who evolve from play in natural areas tend to be the smartest. It just doesn't make sense to suppress a child's inborn urge to play. It is better to use play to develop diverse mental and physical skills." (Louv)
"Contact with nature allows children to see they are part of a larger world that includes them." (Louv)
"Every day, our relationship with nature, or the lack of it, influences our lives. This has always been true, but in the 21st centuty, our survival – or thrival - will require a transformative framework for this relationship, a reunion of humans with the rest of nature, and a new nature movement that includes but goes beyond traditional environmentalism." (Louv)
"We hope that nature play becomes a way of life again, a right and rite of childhood. People of all ages will realize the benefits for everyone's health and well-being, including a sense of peace, prosperity, beauty, and happiness." (Charles)
* Opal School's 5th graders consistently score well above the state average on Oregon's statewide standardized tests in science. Most years, 100% of the students meet and exceed benchmarks.