We are drawing to the close of 2016 and I am so excited by what this year has brought. I have come across an ever-increasing number of articles, studies and books articulating the importance of nature-based, outdoor, imaginative play for children’s development. It’s no longer a theory, nature-deficit disorder really does exist. My passion is to provide another option for children, an antidote to the sedentary classroom-based ‘learning environment’ that, despite all this wonderful research, Education Departments are still insisting upon.
For me, being outside all day – building fire and feeding it, experiencing water sloshing, dripping, evaporating, discovering bugs under logs and watching their tiny civilizations, listening to the birdsong all around us. This is nature immersion. Like learning a second language, we can go to our twice-weekly lesson and attempt to grasp concepts of tense, grammar and pronunciation and perhaps, in a few years, we have the rudiments of that language as it has been taught to us. Or, we can go and live in that country, be immersed in the language, it’s nuances, sounds, variations… and soon we are fluent in a way that can never be taught. This is how I experience nature immersion, it becomes a child’s second language and the knowledge is innate.
Witnessing the growth of the beautiful children who come to Honeymyrtle throughout the year, there is so much going on socially, creatively and their motor skills development is of course obvious. But, it’s what we can’t see – the skills being laid down for the future – the ability to problem-solve, the curiosity, wonder and inventiveness that will lead to new discoveries and thinking ‘outside the box’. They are acquiring an innate sense of their body and its abilities and trust in their own judgement based not on fear of what might go wrong but a practiced sense of how to get it right.
Recently, I watched a 2 year old, two 3 year olds and 4 year old sitting together towards the end of their lunch. They were fully absorbed in their own world, oblivious to me, quietly taking out my phone to film the tableaux. The 4 year old was demonstrating to the others a new version of Incey Wincey Spider with the 2 year old imitating every tiny mannerism as he took in what she was offering. The 3 year old then made a leap into a new realm by creating a new version of her own… much hilarity ensued as they enjoyed this process together. These are precious moments to witness – the ease with which these very young children pass on knowledge, gather new ideas and develop them, each within their own capability but encouraged and assisted by others. During this same episode, the 2 year old left the table to wash his hands, dry them on his own towel and return to the table to complete his meal, completely independently. The 4 year old and one of the 3 year olds had begun tickling each other as Incey Wincey Spider ran up their tummies… The other 3 year old tried to do the same to the 2 year old, but he said, ‘Stop, you are still eating!’. Even at 2 he understands that it is necessary to find the appropriate time for things.
These social developments are a joy to experience – the potential for learning is constant!