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Connecting with Nature

By Melanie Baier, head of Lower School
Head of Lower School shares the benefits of experiencing nature, particularly for young children.
Last year, La Jolla Country Day School started an initiative to put the “country” back in our school by planting trees and bushes around campus. Beautiful greenery now surrounds the Lower School playground. These trees were not just planted to hide or soften up the rather large wall encircling that side of our campus. They were also planted to bring our students back to nature and are part of our students’ educational environment.

Do you remember being sent outside to play by your parents when you were younger? I was fortunate to grow up in an area surrounded by farms and the woods to play in each day. My father tells stories about the baby snapping turtles I would bring home as “pets” on a regular basis. Connecting with nature was not forced upon us; it was a way of life. As the world changes, some things can be replaced with new things, but connections with nature cannot be replaced. There is importance in those natural connections for every child.

Author Richard Louv started a movement when he wrote Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder to reconnect children to nature. “Our society,” says Louv, “has developed such an outsized faith in technology that we have yet to fully realize or even adequately study how human capacities are enhanced through the power of nature.” Since its publication, many studies have documented the importance of nature for developing children. North Carolina State University started a Natural Learning Initiative, which documents the benefits of exposing children to nature, including:
  • supporting multiple developmental domains: intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual and physical (Kellert 2005);
  • promoting creativity and problem solving (Kellert, 2005);
  • enhancing cognitive abilities (Wells, 2000);
  • reducing Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) symptoms (Kuo and Taylor, 2004);
  • and improving eyesight (American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2011).

Additionally, Outside magazine’s September 2018 issue was dedicated to “Rewilding the American Child.” The article presented some out of the box ideas but also some great family stories. Ben Hewitt’s essay from the magazine is available here. There were multiple essays about age-appropriate adventures, balancing screen time, fueling the love of games (not competition), and a family who decided to spend many months at sea with their children. Reconnecting with nature does not require leaving your current life behind but embracing the idea of its importance in your everyday life.

At LJCDS, we value the research and the importance of nature in our budding urban environment. The Early Childhood Center (ECC) has developed wonderful outdoor classrooms—gardens and mud kitchens—and we’re researching further opportunities through the Outdoor Classroom Project. ECC and Lower School science are working with the San Diego Master Gardeners weekly to “help children live in harmony with nature and learn by experience and observation.” We are continually searching for new ways to help our students develop a very important natural connection.

If you are looking for ideas, check out San Diego Children and Nature, and read this article from the Child Mind Institute. They may inspire you to plan some family outings or just have a nature day in your backyard. We can’t wait to hear about your adventures!

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