Why is time outdoors so important for young children?
What is Knee High Nature?
Knee High Nature is science and nature study for childcare providers and early childhood educators. The programs are designed to help you increase young children’s awareness of, curiosity about, and appreciation of the natural world. They provide developmentally appropriate activities for young children that include nature observation, a variety of guided and unguided activities and elementary scientific investigation. Through interactive investigation, creative play, and direct outdoor experiences, our programs instill a sense of caring for the earth and help develop deep connections with the natural world.
Why go outside and explore nature with children?
Children have an inherent curiosity about nature, and with a bit of encouragement and guidance, they will happily spend time outside. It provides just the right kind of stimulation for:
- Self initiated explorations
- Taking responsibility for safe behavior and healthy risk taking
- Developing creativity
- Collaboration and increased positive feelings for each other
- Gross motor skills
- Resistance to daily stress
- Enjoyment of the natural world
Not only is nature-based play time in the outdoors critical for children’s development and overall well-being, these early experiences can have a lasting effect by building a sense of belonging and a feeling of responsibility to care for the earth.
A few serious facts:
- Children in the USA average just 30 minutes a week of unregulated time outdoors; however, their weekly electronic media exposure is almost 45 hours a week.*
- The average American child can recognize 1,000 corporate logos but can’t identify 10 plants or animals native to his or her own region.**
- 71% of adults walked or biked to school when they were children and only 22% of kids do today.***
Finding the time for unhurried outdoor exploration is a challenge in our busy lives, but it is clearly of utmost importance. Early Childhood Professionals can help meet this need by including outdoor nature study and play-based exploration in their programs.
What are Knee High Nature’s goals?
The program goals outlined below reflect the best practices in place based education for young children and are drawn from “Early Childhood Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence” by the North American Association for Environmental Education and the Four Winds program goals: to bring children and adults outside regularly to explore nearby nature; increase understanding of and appreciation of the local environment; and engage whole communities in science learning that is current, relevant, local.
1) KHN lessons and activities are developmentally appropriate.
They incorporate play along the continuum from the child’s choice to the adult’s choice; they encourage different intelligences using art, music, drama and movement; they speak to play motifs exhibited by children outside; they allow children to be natural scientists while exploring.
2) KHN encourages spending time outside, especially unstructured time.
Our culture has become less supportive and understanding of children spending unstructured time outside, and as a consequence most children today spend less time outside than any previous generation. Early childhood professionals can help to reverse this trend by spending regular time outside with their students engaged in authentic, child-directed nature play.
3) KHN lessons and activities align with state standards.
Exploring, learning and playing outside satisfies many Early Learning Standards, and is most effective when structured in an interdisciplinary way that integrates knowledge from across disciplines.
4) The role of the adult during KHN lessons and activities is not to be the expert, but rather to provision, model and lead enthusiastically.
By modeling curiosity and respect, providing the right materials and allowing regular time throughout the year for children to experience their own sense of wonder and awe, you can honor their need to explore, discover and discuss their encounters in nature.
5) Taking young children outside for unstructured exploration can be a rewarding part of a program, and with the right approach behaviors are often easier to manage out of doors.
The outdoors is a place of “doing” with many free materials, and allows children the space to follow their interests, share their discoveries, daydream and play.
** see: Pyle RM (2002) Eden in a Vacant Lot. In: Khan PH, Kellert SR, editors. Children and Nature: psychological, sociocultural, and evolutionary investigations. MIT Press. London, England. pp. 306–327;
Balmford A, Clegg L, Coulson T, Taylor J (2002) Why conservationists should heed Pokémon. Science 295: 2367;
***from: Surface Transportation Policy Project Report. Washington: Beldon Russonello and Stewart Research and Communications, 2003.