“What would our lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?” Richard Louv asks in his book The Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. The Early Learning Center is trying to answer this question with a challenge to their staff and families: Go Outside.
Children are now spending more time in front of electronic entertainment than ever before. Teachers at the Early Learning Center are trying to change this statistic through their nature-based learning efforts. Most classrooms do not utilize computers or tablets for instructional time throughout the school day; children do not watch movies or shows as part of regular curriculum. Instead, they experience the outdoors and natural materials as much as possible.
For the past few years, classroom teachers have worked to incorporate more nature into their day; they have optimized their daily schedules to maximize the time their children are spending outdoors. Classrooms are taking time to investigate bugs, fallen tree limbs, and the weather. They are running, jumping, and engaging in deep imaginary play scenarios that go on for days. The children are joyful and teachers are noticing the benefits of spending more time immersed in nature. “Some of the greatest benefits thus far have been that children are having more authentic experiences in problem solving, gross motor development, and they are more consistently building, testing, and revisiting their theories about the way things work,” says Jessie Barber. Barber is an educator in the young toddler classroom at the ELC and has worked with her teaching partner, Ria Langford, to increase the amount of time her children spend outdoors.
Having seen the benefits of increased time outside firsthand, the Early Learning Center is challenging their staff, families, and the community to spend more time outside together. “When we ask adults to conjure up their favorite childhood memory, most people have described a play scenario that was outdoors, and often the memory involves exploration, imaginary play, or a sense of adventure,” says Robyn Brookshire, director of the Early Learning Center.
Brookshire continues, “Parents and caregivers can give children rich, meaningful daily contact with nature. Family routines and traditions can also reinforce the idea that time outside playing, learning, and gathering for celebrations is not just part of childhood but a healthy way of life for everyone in the family. At the Early Learning Center, we encourage families to find a wide range of ways to enjoy family time outside, not only for the sake of children’s play, but also for quality family time as well.”
In addition to your own yard and neighborhood, the city of Knoxville has many parks, greenways, and nature centers available to enjoy, as well as a close proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visit www.outdoorknoxville.com/play for a resource guide about all of the excellent places to be outside in the Knoxville community. Richard Louv has also written a new book titled Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life with 500 suggestions for families to get connected with nature. There are copies available at each ELC locations for families to borrow.
The ELC is asking that staff and families share their adventures outdoors on social media in order to connect families to the many outdoor opportunities for Knoxville families. To build our outdoor community, tag the Early Learning Center (@UT_ELC) on Twitter and Instagram and (@UTELC) on Facebook and by using the hashtags #GoOutside and #VitaminN. If you want to be involved in our campaign but aren’t on social media, forward photos and the anecdote to our Media Coordinator, Dani Rose Thibus at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll share it for you.