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5 Reasons to Get Kids Outside during times of COVID-19:

By Heidi Ferris, Growing Green Hearts

COVID-19 is here and many kids will be at home…with parents…and we’ll all be driving each other crazy!  It’s a great move for our community, but hey, there’s a misconception we need to address:  Screen time is not the only way to learn in 2020.  

Let’s all be aware that “social distancing” does not mean stay inside.  It means to distance yourself from contact with others. Have our Minnesotan experiences of well-below zero temps and stormy snow days led us to this “inside only” misconception? Quarantine means a place or time period of isolation; and that can be done where you live…meaning not just indoors!

Teachers, friends and fellow parents; please don’t get me wrong… I love technology!  I am so grateful for the medical technologies and advancements that save lives everyday; the movies that save my sanity when I need a distraction; and how communication across the globe can happen so very quickly thanks to technology.  Looking ahead to March and April, I am also grateful for the distance learning and social connections my kids will get thanks to their apps and electronic devices.  After all it’s scientific research (using technology somehow of course) that also points to the importance of outside times for our brains, bodies, and souls.

Here are 5 reasons to get kids (and adults!) outside during these challenging times of COVID-19:

  1. Change happens.  What an amazing, messy, beautiful and mysterious planet we live on…one that geologists say has been changing over time for 4.6 billions of years.  Just like human bodies will eventually develop antibodies to fight the virus or perhaps scientists will use microbiology and immunology to develop a vaccine for coronavirus; change just happens naturally.  We can see changes in nature all the time; all over the interconnected systems of land, air, water, and living things.  Just stop and notice!  Outside is a great learning laboratory to practice noticing change. You’ll know you’re on the right track exploring outside when kids start asking questions about the way water flows, weird objects they find, and a bunch of other phenomena we probably can’t answer on the spot!
  2. Love nature, not fear it.  The environmental education term for loving where you live or visit often is called “sense-of-place.”  This sense of connection contributes to physical, mental, and spiritual health.  I’ve witnessed the fear children can have around bees, germs, being in forest or even dirty hands.  While allergies can be a real threat, perhaps the root of the issue for most of us is lack of relationship?  Get to know the land, air, water, and living things near you by spending time with them.  (Like a good friend that you don’t have to social distance from right now!)  Want to know more about kids layering their learning through intentionally looking, touching, investigating where they live?  Head to this story about Dublin, Ireland:  https://www.childrenandnature.org/research/children-construct-a-sense-of-place-in-urban-public-space/.  Dive into a sense-of-place story from Milwaukee where strong sense of self, family, and neighborhood interact:  https://www.childrenandnature.org/research/neighborhood-nature-may-help-create-a-strong-sense-of-place-in-youth/.
  3. Immune System Boost.  Playing with nature can be fun and, oh, so very healthy!  Certainly the talk right now is about germs like virus and bacteria.  Please keep in mind how research shows time spent in natural settings boosts our immune systems.  Sunshine gets our bodies vitamin D and this article from Outside magazine agrees. Learn more from Mayo Clinic about about vitamin D, sunshine, supplements and here .
  4. Exercise outdoors reduces anxiety. Turns out that our brains respond well to time in nature.  Whether it’s the distractions of trees or birds, calming sounds, or movement increasing blood flow … research points to exercise outside lowering the stress hormone cortical which helps reduce anxiety.  Read this Harvard blog for more details about nature walks, worries, and mental health connections. Also, the Atlantic even shares the story of a doctor writing prescriptions for time outdoors!    
  5. Interdisciplinary learning is powerful play.  (Warning:  Teacher speak ahead!) Interdisciplinary learning, also known as learning between and among many subject areas, means that we learn a bunch of concepts together with emphasis on connections rather than compartments.  This plays into prior knowledge, which is something we all have!  It means that our experiences are foundational and act as a platform for new learning to be “built upon”; or in other words, when it comes to gaining new knowledge or skills prior knowledge is “the hook to hang it on.”  If your children (and you can join in too!) find themselves lost in play, interconnecting subjects without even realizing…then they are tapping into prior knowledge to learn and grow in new ways…using their strengths to strengthen weaker content areas or skills.  Count that as successful interdisciplinary learning.  Outside is my best, and favorite classroom for this.  

“Building ESTEAM with STEM” is a teacher training that I provide for school districts and childcare centers through Growing Green Hearts, LLC.  The name rings true!  ESTEAM stands for environment, science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.  We use cultural storybooks, hands-on activities, sense-of-place research and learning style strategies to coach kids in using their strengths to learn and lead.  It is this list plus connections to the local natural systems that can prepare teachers to build student self-esteem ….outside!  

For families at home due to COVID-19, my upcoming posted lesson series will connect the environmental science found in land, air, water, and living things with art, reading, creative writing, math, social studies and more.  Please pass along this blog post or my website GrowingGreenHearts.com to those you know who may benefit.  

Now let’s get OUTSIDE!

Play. Learn. Love.

March 2020