Category Archives: the big stuff

New Meta-Analysis of Hundreds of Studies: Nature Boosts Children’s Learning in Eight Ways

nature boosts children learning

A large metastudy of hundreds of scientific studies has found what most parents and teachers already know — nature has a powerfully positive impact on children’s learning and on their emotional health.

“Report after report – from independent observers as well as participants themselves – indicate shifts in perseverance, problem solving, critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, and resilience,” the authors wrote.  “The evidence here is particularly strong, including experimental evidence; evidence across a wide range of samples and instructional approaches; outcomes such as standardized test scores and graduation rates; and evidence for specific explanatory mechanisms and active ingredients.”

The meta-analysis (a study that combined the results of many other studies) was published last month in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.  After combining all of the findings, the researchers found that nature helps children learn in eight different ways.

The eight key ways that nature helps children learn were:

Nature Rejuvenates Kids and Helps Them Focus

Studies showed that whether it was students going on field trips, Swedish preschoolers, children in Chicago public housing, or 5 to 18-year-olds with ADHD, nature had a rejuvenating effect on attention.  These findings were confirmed not just by parent and teacher ratings, but by neurocognitive tests.

Nature Relieves Stress

The studies showed that even seeing nature out the classroom window had a positive effect on kids, lowering their heart rates and leading to kids who reported lower stress levels.  Better yet were the kids who were able to learn in a forest setting once a week.  Those kids had lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels even beyond what could be attributed to the physical activity of being outdoors.

Contact With Nature Boosts Self-Discipline

Studies from Spain to inner city Chicago showed that kids who spent time in nature had better impulse control, including kids with ADHD and learning disabilities.  Contact with animals such as horses was found to also have a positive effect.

Student Motivation, Enjoyment, and Engagement Are Better in Natural Settings

Many of the studies found that students and teachers reported strikingly high levels of student engagement and motivation, not just in nature activities that kids had chosen to take part in but also in mandatory school activities in nature.  The researchers noted that learning in and around nature was associated with intrinsic motivation and not just extrinsic motivation (meaning kids were motivated to do things themselves and not doing them because they were forced to), which is important in keeping kids engaged and interested in learning.

“The positivity of learning in nature seem to ripple outward, as seen in learners’ engagement in subsequent, indoor lessons, ratings of course curriculum, materials, and resources and interest in school in general, as well as lower levels of chronic absenteeism,” the authors wrote.

The researchers also found that “learning in nature may improve motivation most in those students who are least motivated in traditional classrooms.”

Time Outdoors Is Tied to Higher Levels of Physical Activity and Fitness

Children’s time outdoors was linked to cardiorespiratory fitness, the type of fitness most clearly associated with better academic performances.  Studies also showed that kids who had access to nature stayed more active, even into adulthood.

Natural Settings Provide Calmer, Quieter, Safer Contexts for Learning

The researchers found that both formal and informal learning improved in nature.  When they were learning in a natural setting, kids were less likely to engage in disruptive behaviors like pushing each other or talking out of turn.  “Further, in greener learning environments, students who previously experienced difficulties in traditional classrooms are better able to remove themselves from conflicts and demonstrate better self-control,” the authors noted.

Natural Settings Foster Friendlier, More Cooperative Relations

Many of the studies showed that natural settings helped kids make friends and feel more trusting.  The researchers theorized that the kids were able to engage more with each other, and that they had a better spirit of cooperation not just with each other but with their teachers.  In addition, they reported that “learning in greener settings has been consistently tied to the bridging of both socio-cultural differences and interpersonal barriers (e.g., personality conflicts) that can interfere with group functioning in the classroom.”

Natural Settings Encourages “Loose Parts” Play, Independence and Healthier Forms of Play

The benefits of “loose parts” play (play involving small objects that kids can use to play and create in open-ended ways) are extended into nature, where kids have access to sticks, rocks, water, dirt and other natural materials.  Studies have shown that teachers and principals found that kids who engaged in loose parts play in nature had more physically active, social and creative play, which were likely to lead to improvements in social, emotional and academic development.

Some of the most interesting studies included:

  • One study of over 3,000 students found that kids who took part in a classroom garden learned more than those on the wait list.  The more garden time they had, the more they learned.
  • Several studies showed that having nature around schools led to better standardized test scores, even in schools with high poverty levels.
  • Many studies showed that time in “wilderness” led to kids developing better leadership skills, resilience, self-confidence, cooperation, perseverance, critical thinking and more.
  • Greener everyday environments seemed to buffer kids from stress and give them better coping skills.

The authors noted that even small doses of nature helped kids, like being able to see nature out their classroom windows.  Obviously, the more time they spent in nature, the better, though.  They wrote:

“Even small exposures to nature are beneficial. If you’re indoors, having a view of your yard as opposed to facing the wall, that makes a difference. At the same time, more is better. That’s one of the things that gives us more confidence that we’re seeing a real cause-and-effect relationship,” Kuo says. “The bigger the dose of nature we give a person, the bigger the effect we see in them.”

Looking for some inspiration to get your kids outside?  I’ve been publishing a free nature-based monthly magazine for kids and their grown ups this year — Wild Kids Magazine.  You and your kiddos can read it online or print it out. It’s a nonprofit project (just as this blog always has been), just to try to do my little bit to spread good stuff in the world.

wild kids collage

Want to help convince your school to incorporate more nature in its learning?  These organizations may be able to help.

Natural Start Alliance works to connect parents, teachers, day care providers and others who teach kids “with the tools they need to create great educational experiences that help young children explore the natural world, understand their environment, and build lifelong skills that will help keep them active and engaged in their communities.”

The Children & Nature Network encourages and supports the people and organizations working to reconnect every child in every community with nature. The network provides a critical link between researchers, individuals, educators and organizations dedicated to children’s health and well-being. C&NN also provides resources for sharing information, strategic initiatives and success stories.

I’ve also created a list of my favorite nature-based books for families (and those I can’t wait to read) on Goodreads, from The Wild Weather Book to How to Grow a School Garden.  Please add your favorites!

“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.” 

–David Polis

Here’s to more nature goodness for all of us.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under the big stuff

Happy Birthday, Hannah

Those who have been reading Magical Childhood for a long time may remember back when I used to send out newsletters back before the blog, full of ramblings and fun ideas and silly ways to make the day magical.  Those who have been around a really long time may remember when we lost our incredible family friend Hannah at age 9 to leukemia.

Today would be Hannah’s 18th birthday. 

Hannah is still a part of our lives, still part of our family conversations, and an incredibly big part of who our oldest daughters are.  Hannah’s life and death shaped them and she continues to shape them. 

She is in Victoria’s strength and acceptance. 

She is in Anna’s songs and poetry. 

She is in our memories.  She is in our stories.

She is in every fearless jump into every body of water that every one of my children take, since Hannah and her brother Hayden taught my girls to abandon their fear of water and jump wildly into water, and then my girls taught it to all of their younger siblings.

She is in our homeschooling, my parenting, all of it.

I wrote this in the Magical Childhood newsletter after her death:

 

Hannah’s life was far too short and we will all miss her very much.  One of the things that gives me comfort is the life she had, though.  She had so much love, laughter and life in those 9 and a half years.  She was treasured by her mother and all who knew her.  She was loved well.  She was happy.

 

Sometimes life gets hectic, stressful, chaotic and messy.  Sometimes we get caught up in the day to day mayhem and lose sight of the big stuff.  Today is a good day to remember the big stuff again.  Make every minute count.  Fill your life and your children’s lives with happiness and meaning.

 

Don’t forget to live.

 

Please hug your kiddos, count your blessings and do something magical today in memory of Hannah.

 

Hannah, thank you for being part of our lives.  We love you.

 

Love, Alicia

In honor of Hannah and her family, please go love the heck out of your kiddos.  Not just today, but every day…  Childhood is short.  Life is short.  Make it all magical and meaningful and real. 

Happy Birthday, Hannah.

If you’d like to read more about Hannah, you can see my original newsletter post here.

 

2 Comments

Filed under the big stuff

Is It a Bad Thing to Want to Give Our Kids a Magical Childhood?

Last week, a blog post went viral about why parents should stop trying to give their kids a magical childhood. 

One of my friends shared it on her Facebook wall and yesterday a speaker at a sustainability conference even recommended it, saying that parents today spend too much time “on those things like Pinterest” and “working so hard to make their children’s live magical.”

“They’re just making their own lives harder,” she scoffed, “trying to make everything perfect.”

Then she said it’s because we mothers are addicted to stress.

Yes, it turns out we secretly like stress and so the quest to make childhood fun is some deep, psychological quest to make ourselves unhappy.

Or something like that.  I had a really hard time understanding the logic in any of it.

These people seem to completely miss the point about what makes a childhood magical, and why some of us make an effort to try to do it.

A magical childhood isn’t about elaborate homemade cakes or catalog-worthy decorating ideas.  It’s not about spending hours on Pinterest in some feverish quest to find enough fantastic things to do for our children.

It’s also not about doing things for and to our children.

It’s about doing things with our children.  And giving them a life where they can make their own magic, too.

A magical childhood is filled with things like stories, hugs, picnics for breakfast in the back yard, knock-knock jokes in lunch boxes, lazy Saturdays, I love you notes in sock drawers and a dozen kisses “just because.”

A magical childhood is about silliness and songs and spontaneity and at least occasional opportunities to make a glorious mess in the mud.

A magical childhood is filled with memories of little things that are big things to children — fireflies, campfires, snowball fights, shoulder rides, time with people who make them feel special and snuggling in bed with a big pile of wonderful library books.

A magical childhood is about being there with our kids on a regular basis and taking the time to talk to them, listen to them, and do something that makes them smile.

It can involve crafts and activities.  It can involve any number of things you can find on Pinterest (and for the record, why is it the new “in” thing to gang up on moms who craft or like Pinterest?).  It can also involve just getting out in nature together or shooting hoops at the park or sitting in the back yard and talking after supper.

Childhood is hard.  Adulthood is hard.  Life in general is hard.

We all need a little magic. 

Yes, kids can make their own magic.  They are very capable of turning our living rooms into giant forts, creating elaborate fantasy worlds in the bushes in the backyard, and enthusiastically jumping like crazy in giant puddles.

But the thing that those misguided people don’t realize is that when we work to make childhood magical, we benefit too.

We strengthen our connection with our kids.

We show our kids that we love them like crazy.

We strengthen them for the hard times they will face in life.

And….

We get to play and craft and splash and make messes again, too.

We add some joy to our own days.

We make parenthood magical too.

silly

I have parented these children through toddlerhood (five times!), surgeries, cancer, the deaths of friends and family, tween angst, teen depression, bullies and more.  Do you think I could have survived intact without working to make it magical for all of us?

There is a picture book that I read to my kids at bedtime sometimes that sums up a magical childhood to me.  It’s called My Mama Had a Dancing Heart and it’s about a little girl and her mother through the seasons spending time together cutting out paper snowflakes, playing in fall leaves, dancing in the rain and so on.

The last line is, “My mama had a dancing heart, and she shared that heart with me.”

That’s the kind of mom I have always tried to be.  And I frankly think it’s nonsense for anyone to suggest that’s a bad thing.

Those people can go on scoffing at those of us who strive to give our kids a magical childhood.

If that’s the worst thing they can say about me, I think I’m doing okay.  🙂

dancing

 

 

216 Comments

Filed under the big stuff

A Little Update

Thank you for all your kind words about Victoria.  It’s meant a lot to our family.

I thought I’d post a little update on how she’s doing but I’m not sure I ever posted much information to begin with so here’s a super short recap:

Victoria had surgery on May 2nd to remove a lump that had been below her ear for over a year.  A doctor and specialist had told us that it was “nothing” but we finally pushed for it to be removed and another doctor agreed it was best since it was growing larger.  The surgery was a parotidectomy, since the lump was sitting on top of her parotid (salivary) gland. 

She had a difficult recovery, with a lot of pain and pretty severe swelling on the side of her face.  At her two week recheck, the doctor informed us that a biopsy had revealed a rare type of cancer of the parotid gland instead of the benign cyst he was expecting.  He said he was optimistic that it had all been removed, though. 

Last week, we went to an oncologist who specializes in cancers of the ear, nose and throat who told us that the surgeon had removed the cyst in a way that was dangerous since he hadn’t known it was cancerous (basically, you want to take extra all around and “ink” it to help determine if there is more anywhere and be sure you got it all).  She also palpitated the site to see how Victoria was healing. 

Within about an hour of the appointment, Victoria was in a lot of pain and by that evening she was in excruciating pain, sobbing and shaking with a high fever.  We rushed her to the emergency room, where they gave her large doses of pain medicines and IV fluids to no relief.  She spent the night in the hospital and in the morning we rushed her back to Sioux Falls to the oncologist’s office.  Victoria’s oncologist was now in Aruba, so another specialist saw her and immediately admitted her to the pediatric ward of the local hospital.  She had a severe infection where she’d had the surgery (it’s likely the infected area burst and spread during the palpitations the day before).  They did emergency surgery that night to deal with the infection, and she was released from the hospital on Sunday.

The good news is that she’s healing very well from this surgery and she’s in much less pain.  She had her stitches removed yesterday and the surgeon told us he looked at the pathology report from the initial surgery and the cancer does seem to have been removed well (there were clear margins all around, meaning that the extra that they want was there).  She will have a special type of CT scan in three months to look for more cancer.

Victoria is still on antibiotics and pain medication, but she’s getting back to her usual self.  She’s pretty weak and things like chewing still cause her pain, but her spirits are much better.

(If you’d like to send her a card or pick-me-up, you can at:  Victoria Bayer, PO Box 304, Westbrook MN 56183)

The cancer is a very rare type and it tends to be very slow growing, which is good news.  Victoria’s surgeon has another young patient who had the same type of parotid cancer and has been doing well for two years.  We’re optimistic right now about the cancer, the surgery, the infection and her medical team.

Meanwhile, every other member of our family has been sick this month too.  We’ve had coughs, colds, flus, an eye infection, a respiratory infection, fevers, stomach pains, allergies, sore throats, headaches, lost voices and general exhaustion.  We all finally seem to be getting better now that the worst of the crises are over.  We have high hopes for June!

I’ll be back soon.  Thanks again for all your sweet comments, thoughts, prayers, letters and words of support.  🙂

~Alicia

 

9 Comments

Filed under the big stuff

A Smallish Break

Some of you may know that our daughter Victoria was back in the hospital this week.  She had a couple of very scary days with a lot of pain and another surgery, but she’s back home again now.  We are in limbo with her cancer diagnosis (the latest news is now cautiously optimistic), but her most urgent medical needs have all been met and we’re getting her the best care we can.

This has been a rough month.

Right now I’m focusing all of my energies on taking care of my kiddos and getting our lives back in healthy, happy places all around.

I’ll be checking in off and on, but I’m taking a smallish break from A Magical Childhood while focusing on family.

I’ll be back soon.

Kiss your babies, count your blessings, and don’t forget to add a little magic to the day.

~Alicia

21 Comments

Filed under the big stuff

The C Word

Ten years ago, my little girl was a four year-old happily splashing in puddles.  Victoria was my joyful model for the picture on the What should a 4 year-old know? article that brought a lot of people here over the years.

Two weeks ago, Victoria was having surgery to remove a cyst on her jawline that had been bothering her for over a year.  Numerous doctors dismissed it as nothing and told her to just leave it alone, but it was growing and we finally found a doctor who took it seriously.  My baby had an IV and a breathing tube, and awoke to a drainage tube coming out of her neck for two days.

At her two week follow-up with the surgeon this week, we were informed that it was cancer. 

In today’s world, the easiest way to update a whole lot of concerned loved ones at once is sometimes Facebook, and this was my status that afternoon.

It was cancer (papillary cystic acinic cell carcinoma) but the prognosis is good. He believes he got it all and it is one of the “best” parotid cancers to get. She has a 12% lifetime chance of getting it again. There’s no need for chemo or radiation, and this was probably the cause of her terrible headaches the past few months. Her case was forwarded to a specialist in children’s parotid cancers in Iowa and we have his recommendations too. We’re getting a second opinion just to be cautious, too. The swelling and leaking should stop in the next few weeks and there’s no infection. She’s feeling okay about the whole thing (though she’s sick on top of things, with this bug that Anna, Fiona and I have) and Dad took her for lunch and ice cream.

We are optimistic about her prognosis and we will be very proactive in finding information, keeping her immune system healthy and minimizing its chances of ever returning.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my share of scary thoughts, google searches and late-night mama worries, but knowledge is power and we’re pretty good at accumulating a lot of knowledge around here.

What has really struck me during this ordeal is how strong, funny, brave, rational and all-around amazing this kid of mine has been throughout it all.  From researching parotid glands on her own to keeping up a hysterical run of gallows humor at times to telling me “Mom, just don’t freak out,” she’s been wise beyond her years and incredibly positive.

Every person in our family is now sick (with all different things!) and we are still recovering from 3 birthdays in one week and a week of hosting a super fabulous extra teenager and all sorts of adventures, both good and bad.  I hope to be back soon, but I thought I’d fill you in on all of this. 

My goals for all of us the next few weeks involve rest, love, laughter, good nutrition and good times together. Oh, and somehow catching up on laundry…

Oh yes, and getting the materials to make this next month, because that just looks awesome.  🙂 

Kiss your babies, count your blessings and let the laundry wait if you have to.

~Alicia

 

24 Comments

Filed under the big stuff

The Never-Ending Parent

You may have noticed that Monday came and went without a list of ways to make the day magical this week. 

It’s been one of those weeks.

You’re on your own!  😉

But in the meantime, I came across this tidbit that I wrote in the Magical Childhood newsletter years ago.  It was written half to a friend who was stressed out as a mom and half as a reminder to myself.

It helps me keep things in perspective.

The Never-Ending Parent

Sometimes it’s hard to be a good parent.
Sometimes you wonder why you’re not like others
Who make themselves the priority, who are stern and unyielding
Or who let everybody else take care of their kids.
Sometimes you envy them their time, their space,
Their full night’s sleep.

Sometimes you start doubting yourself and wondering
If you really are just crazy, being this kind of parent
In this kind of world.

Your house is noisy and full of chaos
And you wonder if it will last forever.

I have a secret.  If you keep this up….
It will.

Think of it.

When you get up at 3 a.m. because your baby cries, think of the time
When he’s a teenager and calls at 3 a.m. to say he needs a ride
Instead of getting in the car with his drunk friends
Because he knows he can be honest with you and that he can count on you.

When you take the time to explain “why” for the hundredth time today
Wondering if you will ever get a moment’s peace and quiet,
Think of the days when your daughter is grown and on her own
And will still call because she loves your conversations.

When you discount all the well-meaning people who tell you to let your baby cry
And you go to him, hold him, comfort him anyway
Think ahead to the times when he’ll be a strong, secure, independent kid
And those people say “I don’t know how you were blessed with such an easy child.”

When you nurse your daughter and hold her close
Spoiling her with all that love and care, think of the time
When you’ll overhear her tell a friend
“My mom and I have always been so close.”

When the house is full of noise, mess and chaos
Think of the days when the kids are grown, and it will start all over
With your grandchildren, because your family is so bonded
That everybody still gathers at your loving home.

No, if you keep this up it will never change.
Your children will be in your life forever.
And honey, you’ll love the noise.

~ Alicia Bayer

Happy Thursday!  I’ll be back with some fun soon!

14 Comments

Filed under the big stuff