Tag Archives: preschool

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.

 

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Let’s Learn About the Weather!

There are some wonderful, whimsical freebies out there to help little ones learn about the weather.

Here are some of my favorites!

Paint on the Ceiling has a Free Printable Weather Chart for Preschoolers.

Mr. Printables offers My Weather Station | Printable Weather Activity.

Fantail Digital Art has “My First Weather Chart” Free Printable

And Stickers and Charts has FREE weather printables, rainbow printables, and weather stickers.


And if you really want to track the weather, PBS lets you go all out here.

Now, here’s some wonderful weather to track!

 

 

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A Little Playful Inspiration

Have you visited the blog Let the Children Play I find myself frequently pinning Jenny’s lovely posts because they are so wonderful for simple, magical, child-led fun.

Here’s a few examples that have inspired me for our lazy days at home…

“This sunny day we set out a couple of shallow boxes and containers filled with sand, along with a basket of goodies to create little worlds.”

series: how to create an irresistible outdoor playspace for children

“Within the Reggio Emilia schools, great attention is given to the look and feel of the classroom.  Just feast your eyes on some of the wonderful images of Reggio Emilia inspired preschools I have found lately…”

A space of comfort and privacy:
 

A space of beauty and wonder:
 
I subscribe to Let the Children Play by email, and it’s lovely to have these simple and whimsical ideas dropped into my inbox each morning.  I highly recommend going over and taking a peek.  Click on Popular Posts to see some of the viewer favorites, but don’t stop there.  Click on related pages at the end of each blog post and you’re likely to find more than you can possibly keep up with to inspire you.  🙂
Happy Thursday!

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More Research Shows Preschoolers Learn Best Through Play and Exploration (and a Few Fun Links)

As if we needed more studies to show that preschoolers don’t need formal education, two new studies have shown that little ones are better at learning and solving problems when they are not instructed about it first.  In Slate’s Why Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School, researcher Alison Gopnik cites the studies and how they surprised the scientists:

As so often happens in science, two studies from different labs, using different techniques, have simultaneously produced strikingly similar results. They provide scientific support for the intuitions many teachers have had all along: Direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning.

The author concludes the article with something most of us know already:

Knowing this, it’s more important than ever to give children’s remarkable, spontaneous learning abilities free rein. That means a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play. Not school for babies. 

Want to play with your kiddos today?  Here’s some sites with some fun inspiration…

  • Meyamo has a wonderful PDF page showing how to make a dozen gorgeous colors of natural paint with powdered sugar, a bit of boiling water and fruits and vegetables like spinach, carrots, raspberries, coffee and lemons.
  • Twenty-five different blogs took part in Tinkerbox’s Cardboard Box Challenge and I love some of the things they came up with, like the way Teach Preschool’s little carpenter not only used parts of boxes to make walls of a little house but he even made planks of floors.  Then there’s the splat paint box, the marble run, the castle, the loom…
  • I love The Artful Parent’s Spray Painted Canvas Patio Walls!  We do something similar with an old sheet all summer (yes, that’s the same sheet over the years in the pictures!).  We hang it on the clothesline and attack it with paint, spray bottles of colored water, you name it, and then just wash it and use it for our table cover when we do messy crafts inside.  I love the way it constantly changes depending on the latest art adventures, with some designs lasting forever through the new.

Happy Wednesday!

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What We Can Learn From Swedish Preschools

I received a rather snarky comment on my “What Should a 4 Year-Old Know?” post today.

While I’ve been contacted by teachers, librarians, principals, doctors and early childhood education experts who have said they wished more parents realized these things, this surly individual called me “blase” and “touchy feely” and said, “C****, we’re all screwed.”

The commenter, Eric, said that “we are so behind other countries that good jobs are bleeding from our borders to other nations…” and “4-year-old children SHOULD be able to write their name, know the planets, list several presidents AND count to 100…”.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to educate Eric on what those countries that are leading the world ARE doing in preschool.

It might not be what he thinks.

Head over to Teacher’s TV and watch this 26 minute video about preschools in Sweden.

As the narrator says,

Imagine a school where play and relaxation is paramount…

…Where there’s little formal learning and most leave at the age of five or six unable to read or write.

…Yet, just a few years after starting formal schooling at the age of seven, these children lead the literacy table in Europe.

The preschool director points out that there is no testing and that “It’s not the child we should evaluate, it’s the processes we do.”

The Swedish preschool’s motto:

Challenge, Discovery, Adventure

The video talks about what’s important in Swedish preschools — lots of time outside, natural foods, cooperation, exercise, security, play, life skills and most importantly, fun.  It also shows how these young children do in school a few years later, and lets them talk about what they think of it all.

What about the rest of the world?  Teacher’s TV has an entire series of programs that follow countries that teach in the best ways, and Hungary was featured for teaching math best.  Again, you’ll notice that they introduce formal learning later and the children do better. In Hungary, they begin formal school at age 6 and are not formally tested until age 14.

There’s plenty more to show the academic reasons for play-based learning for preschoolers.  Take a look at this excerpt from Should preschools teach all work and no play?

Rebecca Marcon, a developmental psychologist and education researcher at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, agrees. In 1999, Marcon published a study in the journal Developmental Psychology that looked at 721 4-year-olds selected from three different preschool models: play based, academic (adult directed) and middle of the road (programs that did not follow either philosophy). Marcon followed the children’s language, self-help, social, motor and adaptive development along with basic skills.

“What we found in our research then and in ongoing studies is that children who were in a [play-based] preschool program showed stronger academic performance in all subject areas measured compared to children who had been in more academically focused or more middle-of-the-road programs,” says Marcon.

According to Marcon and other researchers, children who are subjected to overly academic environments early on have more behavior problems later and are less likely to be enthusiastic, creative learners and thinkers.

“You will frequently get short-term gains with a highly academic approach (in preschool), but they come with long-term consequences,” says Marcon. “A lot of early childhood studies only follow children to third grade. But when you take it into fourth grade and beyond that’s where you see the big difference. That’s when children have to be more independent and think.”

When deciding what is best for your preschooler, I hope you will always follow the leads of your own heart, your own child and at the very least, follow the research.

Despite grumpy people who may think otherwise, doing things that are good for children is not bad for any of us.

For more on this subject see:


4 Reasons To Ditch Academic Preschools

Academic Preschools: Too Much Too Soon?

Academic Preschool

Pushing preschoolers — at what cost?

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What Should a 4 Year Old Know?

What should a 4 year old know?

It’s back to school time and children all over are starting preschool.  Many parents are frantically searching the internet to find out if their little ones are “on track” and know everything they should.

I wrote this article about what a four-year-old should know many years ago but it continues to be the most popular page on the Magical Childhood site.  I don’t think a week has passed in the past eight or so years when I have not received a letter from a parent, grandparent or teacher about it.  Parents and principals especially have said they wish more parents realized these things.

So in honor of the new school year, I’m posting it here…

What should a 4 year old know?

I was on a parenting bulletin board recently and read a post by a mother who was worried that her 4 1/2 year old did not know enough. “What should a 4 year old know?” she asked.

Most of the answers left me not only saddened but pretty soundly annoyed. One mom posted a laundry list of all of the things her son knew. Counting to 100, planets, how to write his first and last name, and on and on. Others chimed in with how much more their children already knew, some who were only three. A few posted URL’s to lists of what each age should know. The fewest yet said that each child develops at his own pace and not to worry.

It bothered me greatly to see these mothers responding to a worried mom by adding to her concern, with lists of all the things their children could do that hers couldn’t. We are such a competitive culture that even our preschoolers have become trophies and bragging rights. Childhood shouldn’t be a race.

So here, I offer my list of what a 4 year old should know.

    1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
    2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
    3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
    4. He should know his own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If he couldn’t care less about learning his numbers, his parents should realize he’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let him immerse himself instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.
    5. She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvelous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy.

But more important, here’s what parents need to know.

    1. That every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at his own pace and that it will have no bearing on how well he walks, talks, reads or does algebra.
    2. That the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but mom or dad taking the time every day or night (or both!) to sit and read them wonderful books.
    3. That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
    4. That our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them. Most of us could get rid of 90% of our children’s toys and they wouldn’t be missed, but some things are important– building toys like legos and blocks, creative toys like all types of art materials (good stuff), musical instruments (real ones and multicultural ones), dress up clothes and books, books, books. (Incidentally, much of this can be picked up quite cheaply at thrift shops.) They need to have the freedom to explore with these things too– to play with scoops of dried beans in the high chair (supervised, of course), to knead bread and make messes, to use paint and play dough and glitter at the kitchen table while we make supper even though it gets everywhere, to have a spot in the yard where it’s absolutely fine to dig up all the grass and make a mud pit.
    5. That our children need more of us. We have become so good at saying that we need to take care of ourselves that some of us have used it as an excuse to have the rest of the world take care of our kids. Yes, we all need undisturbed baths, time with friends, sanity breaks and an occasional life outside of parenthood. But we live in a time when parenting magazines recommend trying to commit to 10 minutes a day with each child and scheduling one Saturday a month as family day. That’s not okay! Our children don’t need Nintendos, computers, after school activities, ballet lessons, play groups and soccer practice nearly as much as they need US. They need fathers who sit and listen to their days, mothers who join in and make crafts with them, parents who take the time to read them stories and act like idiots with them. They need us to take walks with them and not mind the .1 MPH pace of a toddler on a spring night. They deserve to help us make supper even though it takes twice as long and makes it twice as much work. They deserve to know that they’re a priority for us and that we truly love to be with them.

And now back to those 4 year old skills lists…..

I know it’s human nature to want to know how our children compare to others and to want to make sure we’re doing all we can for them. Here is a list of what children are typically taught or should know by the end of each year of school, starting with preschool.

Since we homeschool, I occasionally print out the lists and check to see if there’s anything glaringly absent in what my kids know. So far there hasn’t been, but I get ideas sometimes for subjects to think up games about or books to check out from the library. Whether you homeschool or not, the lists can be useful to see what kids typically learn each year and can be reassuring that they really are doing fine.

If there are areas where it seems your child is lacking, realize that it’s not an indication of failure for either you or your child. You just haven’t happened to cover that. Kids will learn whatever they’re exposed to, and the idea that they all need to know these 15 things at this precise age is rather silly. Still, if you want him to have those subjects covered then just work it into life and play with the subject and he’ll naturally pick it up. Count to 60 when you’re mixing a cake and he’ll pick up his numbers. Get fun books from the library about space or the alphabet. Experiment with everything from backyard snow to celery stalks in food coloring. It’ll all happen naturally, with much more fun and much less pressure.

My favorite advice about preschoolers is on this site though.

What does a 4 year old need?

Much less than we realize, and much more.

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A Door to Anywhere

Daryl has been on the lookout for an old fashioned screen door for a play he’s putting on in September.  Last week, he spotted one by the street for trash pick-up and snagged it.  When he got it home, he realized it seemed to be made for very tiny people (!) and would not work at all.

A door made for very tiny people?  I immediately seized on it and asked Daryl to hang it up for us.

Three hinges and ten minutes later, we had a door to nowhere.  Or the back yard.  Or anywhere.

Daryl added a hook and eye screw so the door can be fastened against the garage when out of use.

We discovered that it made a perfect stage for puppet shows!

Or just make believe.  🙂

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that often the most magical things are things that other people would consider rubbish.  Whether it’s scrap wood painted bright colors and used as giant outdoor building blocks or old doors that lead to nowhere, there’s often pretty nifty stuff out there waiting to be imagined — for free!   🙂

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