As many of you already know, I recently co-founded Maine Outdoor School, L3C and am passionate about getting people outdoors to consider how we can learn from the natural systems all around us that have supported life for so long. I feel confident that good outdoor education is the key to addressing so many of our current struggles on this planet.

I published this article through the Matador Network in late January 2017 to share some of the benefits of outdoor education with a broader audience, and to force myself to dive into some of the most recent research on the topic.

Here are some excerpts from, “Screen time is becoming an epidemic for kids (and everyone). Here’s a way out.”  by yours truly:

“Children are spending an average of over 40 hours per week on screens, not including the time they spend on computers when they’re at school. Schools are also noticing decreasing attention spans (humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish), a notable increase in a range of mental and physical health problems, and parents with an increased sense of fear for the safety of their children. Meanwhile, school teachers are struggling with increased demands on having their students meet a variety of learning standards and are often trying to gain more classroom time by minimizing recess-time.”

“In a 6th-grade outdoor geology class I used to teach, I brought my students to an area full of big rocks and told them to explore — by climbing, tunneling, and crawling—in an effort to answer one question: how did these rocks get here? Students naturally tested their limits on the slippery rocks, helping one another through tight squeezes and pulling each other to high places. They not only developed grit and self-esteem by challenging themselves, but also communicated with each other face-to-face and hand-to-hand, developing direct interpersonal skills. Considering such a broad question during their explorations also encouraged critical thinking and problem-solving in a real-world setting, which is correlated with higher test scores, academic achievement, and memory retention.

In younger children, regular outdoor learning experiences help them develop fine motor skills, enhance creativity, and develop the capacity for empathy — critical skills acquired during early childhood and correlated with becoming responsible adults. Outdoor education takes a slightly less structured approach for these younger children, free play being especially important for brain development, but playing with sticks, making fairy houses, matching natural objects to colorful paint chips, and making leaf rubbings all enhance their imaginations and engagement in the world around them.”

“Improving mental and physical health, enhancing academic achievement and performance, and fostering community engagement is as simple as getting outdoors for hands-on learning experiences regularly throughout our lives. Schools, struggling with budget cuts, can also easily save money by becoming outdoor-based as the greatest teaching supplies can be found for free in nature. The trend towards keeping children indoors, immobile, and screen-reliant is harmful and expensive. But slowing this trend is simple: have students do their writing assignments outdoors where they can write about the change of seasons, have them make art with natural objects in their schoolyard, have them create shelters with sticks to test their engineering skills, or simply give them free time to explore, observe, and ask questions about the natural world on their own. In fact, try it out yourself. You’ll be glad you did.”

Read the full article here!

And if you’re so excited about this kind of work, you could even help support my work at Maine Outdoor School.