Why do we have Environment Days?
Playing, living and learning in the outdoor environment is a safety valve to modern living. Children’s sense of wonder, their delight in discovery, their appreciation of the natural world, can all be nurtured on Environment Days. Indeed, this aspect of a child’s education has been so well researched, that in parts of Europe and now in Australia, entire curriculums e.g. Forest Schools Education, are built around the premise of being in the natural outdoor environment. However, where Cottage School differs from most other schools, is that we don’t confine this type of activity to just the early years, but have it as one of the cornerstones to our curriculum with all age groups participating in an Environment Day multiple times each term.
It is a fundamental concept that children need space to grow. This concept continues to come under threat in the contemporary world of population density, helicopter parenting and social sensibilities regarding risk and responsibility. Yet the benefits of facilitating structured experiential learning experiences remain undeniable.
How does Environment Day fit in with the academic curriculum?
The Cottage School advocates and practices development of the whole child. Academic success is important and we don’t shy away from that fact. However, so too is the development of individuals who we are nurturing to become increasingly independent, resilient, cooperative and responsible. We want our children to take a journey, to take risks, develop self-esteem, and to take these attributes back into the classroom. On occasion, the classroom teacher will dovetail being in the natural environment with what is happening in the classroom and bring learning into the real world e.g. measurement of distance and direction on a compass becomes meaningful when on a walk; the study of history comes alive when discovering the remains on the Ice House Track; Aboriginal customs discussed in the class become a reality when walking to middens and Mutton Bird rookeries; and these are but only a few examples.
In April of 2016, researchers from eight different countries and a variety of academic backgrounds met in Denmark to reach an evidence-based consensus on the benefits of physical activity for children and young people between the ages of six and 18. They produced an expansive statement that notes the evidence for the positive benefit of exercise in the regions of : fitness and health; intellectual performance; engagement, motivation and wellbeing; and social inclusion (Brangsbo, J. 2016)
How is spending time in the environment linked to psychological well-being?
The Australian Psychological Society has determined that it is important in this age of environmental uncertainty, to take children of all ages into the natural world and to utilize the opportunity to develop environmentally-friendly values and behaviours, an understanding of the environmental challenges we face, and an easing of their anxiety about the threat of climate change. In their words; “Teaching children about the natural world is not just a nice thing to do – it is vital for the future of our children and the future of all life.” It is likely that many children are aware of the threats to our environment, however, it is quite likely that they are confused about the facts and the extent of these threats. These worries can be the cause for children feeling anxious, concerned or confused, creating difficulties for children of all ages to deal with. By spending time in the very environment that they are concerned about, children are provided with the opportunity to grasp the problem and apply their energy and enthusiasm to putting solutions into place. This is a skill that children are very often reported to be better at than adults!
Japanese researchers conducted a study where they observed the physiological impacts of people who spent 15 minutes walking in nature daily, versus those wandering around the city streets. Their results found that even a brief walk amongst greenery resulted in a significant decrease of the stress-related hormone cortisol, a two percent decrease in blood pressure, as well as a four percent drop in heart rate (Park, J.P., et al. 2010)
How is spending time in the environment linked to physical well-being?
Walks planned on Environment Days, are a time when children are challenged in a real situation. They face and overcome adversity. Effort and determination are needed to complete a walk and a real sense of pride and achievement is felt at the end of the day. Walking develops stamina in a real way. It introduces children to a physical activity which can give them a lifetime of pleasure. In an age where there is a direct correlation between being sedentary and the prevalence of being overweight and obese (Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council), and the associated health problems related to excess weight, it is of paramount importance that children are helped to develop healthy life choices. As Environment Days are a physically demanding activity, combined with the Healthy Food Policy and an absence of technological influences, we firmly believe that we are setting our children up for successful physical well-being.
Research from Australian optometrists demonstrated that outdoor light plays an important role in reducing the chances of myopia, or short-sightedness, in children. Their findings show that children need at least two hours of natural light each day for optimal eye development (Read, S.A., Collins, M.J., Vincent, S.J., 2015)
Our conclusion of Environment Days.
Sir Ken Robinson ask the question, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (Ken Robinson, 2015). A look at the Cottage School values reveals: Stewardship and Creativity as two of the eight community chosen values explicitly taught and promoted. We firmly believe that our classrooms are dynamic environments where teaching and learning is stimulating and challenging, unaffected by the external pressures of testing and standardisation found in so many educational settings. We also believe that our Environment Days are a practical approach to unifying stewardship and creativity into a single day, for the benefit of us as human beings and for the world around us. The most fundamental question is, what is education for? Cottage School’s answer to that is found in our approach to educating the whole child, in a balanced, individualised and creative manner that promotes meaningful learning for all.
Bangsbo, J., et al. (2016). The Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016: children, youth, and physical activity in schools and during leisure time. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016; 0:1-2.
Park, J.P., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T. & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, 15(1): 18-26.
Read, S.A., Collins, M.J., Vincent, S.J., (2015). Light exposure and Eye Growth in Childhood. Clinical and Epidermilogic Research, 56, 6779-6787.
Robinson, K. (2015). Creative Schools: Revolutionising Education from the Ground Up. Penguin Group: Australia
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