There was a very interesting story in last Friday’s Toronto Star: Kids with autism benefit from outdoor classroom. It seems to show just how stifling a standard classroom environment ends up being.
While many seem to handle it, its effects really hurt others.
First, you should probably click over there to watch the video (I can’t embed it here.)
The story relates to what is described as a growing trend:
The Blaydon outdoor classroom is part of a growing movement in Canada to get young students outside to connect with nature. Mounting evidence shows hands-on outdoor learning boosts physical activity, mental health, brain power and attention. It also enhances learning by building on children’s curiosity and firsthand observations.
Nature kindergartens and outdoor preschools are popping up in Ontario, British Columbia and other provinces. They’re modelled after forest schools thriving in Scandinavia, Germany and the U.K. over the past few decades.
Blaydon demonstrates how that approach can be adapted for city schools, by using “nearby nature” in schoolyards, ravines or parks.
“We don’t have a forest, but this is as close as we can get,” says Crowther. And is doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, she adds.
It really helps the autistic children.
The teachers say his is one example of how daily outdoor time is changing the way their young students — including those autism and other special needs — learn and behave.
“I’ve never see them come around like this, doing things I didn’t know they were capable of,” says Cooper, a special-education teacher for 20 years.
This idea has even been given a name, Nature Deficit Disorder, from a book by Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods.
In Western Australia, there is another manifestation of the idea, in this article, WA kids told to get barefoot, wet and dirty to make them better adults.
Here’s what it says about bare feet.
Parenting commentator and former West Australian Maggie Dent said getting kids back to the basics could improve their behaviour, concentration and emotional levels.
“Children who have their shoes on all the time, their brain won’t be as clever as children who are barefoot,” she said.
“Children learn best and play best when they’re about level four of calm and focus, so if you spend too much time inside, particularly boys or very strong charactered children with lots of energy, it builds up.
“Nature has a way of calming them and soothing them … so they get along better, think better, learn better, question better [because] they’re interacting with a world that is full of fascinating things.”
Barefooter Wolfmaan Starchild wrote about Nature Deficit Disorder and its relation to going barefoot on his blog a few years ago.
Until about only about 5,000 years ago humans did not wear shoes. Our feet connected us to our surroundings in ways most modern humans cannot begin to imagine. Our bare feet were toughened when young, and it was a lifelong pursuit to keep our body, mind, and spirit tuned to the natural rhythms of nature.
* * *
Although the rise of wearing shoes for protection over the last 100 years has increased exponentially, children still have a basic desire to go without shoes. They are almost always corrected by adults. Almost all of the things we force our children, and ultimately ourselves to do in the world go against our primal selves.
As the original article notes, this outdoor play really helps the autistic children. The natural world, even the little bit they get in that urban environment, really is necessary for our health, both physical and mental.
Of course, you’ll all note that those kids are shod.
It was March after all. However, they weren’t dress all that heavily. I saw some bare arms and none of them (that I noticed) were wearing gloves. So bare feet, and the additional exposure to nature noted by Wolfmaan, would have fit right in.
Unfortunately, our culture isolates itself from bare feet even more than it isolates itself from nature. It sees bare feet as super bad and super dangerous, when they are really no such thing.
And I wonder just how much autistic children might benefit from going barefoot. What I do know is that it is pretty standard to try to make them conform, conform, conform.
It’s sad to see this sort of discussion that I found, in which the parents of autistic children discuss their concerns and strategies.
I just posted a very long thread about Mason already struggling at school…well his spec. ed teacher just called and said that all afternoon Mason has been pulling his socks and shoes off.
So I’m wondering if one of his problems isn’t this…he absolutely hates wearing socks and shoes…we have a “ritual” where I put his socks and shoes on and says they feel wrong, pulls them off and I start over…we go through this like 10 times before he finally feels comfortable enough to leave them on.
From the replies it seems to be a common problem.
And it is sad that the cultural solution is to make them conform. It doesn’t even seem to be an option to just let the children go barefoot if that is what works for them! But no, they must be “trained.”
Here’s another comment:
My 2-1/2 year old refuses to keep his shoes on at pre-school–he goes twice a week. The teachers are always complaining how he takes his shoes off constantly and it’s a problem because the children must keep them on in case of a fire or something.
Really, the kids must keep their shoes on? The idea of shoes is so ingrained that even special education teachers cannot see how letting the kids go barefoot should not be a problem. (And in case of a fire??? Trust me, a barefoot kid can walk outdoors barefoot just as easily as if shod.)
It’s not always lost; from another comment:
My younger son just refuses and it’s a battle he’s won. He is in ECSE and even after the teachers doing battle with him over it…he still won. He doesn’t wear socks or shoes in school.
Good for him, good for the parent, good for the school.
We really don’t need this strict regimentation and divorce from nature, and that applies to wearing shoes, too.