It’s strange to realize how I feel ‘blank’ when I have no picture to reflect on and write about… This was a different winter with me and my child being indoor for hours and hours … being cold and disengaged when outdoors and feeling there was not much to photograph when everything seemed grey and cold. I’m searching all my computer files to find a picture to write about Rauz’s engagement with nature in the last 6 months and have to confess there isn’t any, or there’s any that can inspire me to write a post on. So, I’m pushing myself to think and write without a picture or to write about a winter with no picture …
My undergrad students had to develop an outdoor curriculum experience for young children (0-5 years old) in their field placement over the past winter semester. Less than a month into the course, they started complaining that the kids were not spending time outside at all and so how they could have observed them outside and developed a curriculum plan based on children’s interests. And even if they had planned for an outdoor curriculum, there would have been hardly any day during the week that children would go outside to experience it … the reason being that the weather was too cold for too many days. So I adjusted and adjusted and finally gave up on the idea of creating an outdoor experience . And by the time that we got into April, and it was still cold, it hit all of us that this is serious. We need to seriously think about the consequences of the ‘cold/bad weather’ on the physical and psychological health and well being of our young children in our city, and perhaps in many other cold cities in our country.
Are we, human beings, becoming more vulnerable losing our capabilities to tolerate the coldness of our climate? Or are our indoors becoming too comfortable making our outdoors significantly irrelevant, ‘unreachable’, un-livable? I’m thinking about our big SUVs, big couches, big TV screens, big coffee mugs, and small bungalows turning into big triple-door garage houses with small to none back yards but big basements for entertainment centers and games.
Let’s get back to our young citizens in childcare centers and schools, where many of them spend about 6-9 hours a day, five days a week, often year around. We need to question the environments that we have created for them and the kinds of connection with the natural environments that we’re defining for them. The restorative power of time outside and the impact of green space on children’s emotional well being are currently being extensively examined. But put this aside, for children aged 0-5 physical development is significantly important. It is a shocking reality that many of these centers don’t even have a gym or any big indoor room where children can at least get opportunities to develop their gross motor skills crawling, walking, running, climbing, pulling, or throwing. I don’t need research findings to be alarmed. The experience of 20 field students in 20 different centers is enough for me to draw the result that this is not ok … lack of outdoor time (even in asphalt and fenced playgrounds) cannot be overlooked … it is serious. I add to the data from my students my own professional experience of working with young children for many years at different capacities, and my personal experience raising a child and talking to many parents of young children. Our experiences are not unusual. And let’s face the reality that it can be cold for many many months in Canada and then it can be very hot and humid with high UV index for some other months.
Answers? Humans were always outdoors regardless of the harsh weather. We had caves but we didn’t hibernate, we were strong to tolerate the heat and the chill. While for our survival needs to be need to constantly develop new skills, it is not wise to lose those that we already have and are so valuable. If the kind of life in the movie Wall E is not the future that we wish for our children, then we need to question our practices if we’re taking that path to the future: To pollute our outdoor environments, to create too much fear and anxiety towards any exposure to the natural environments and the outdoors, to make such a connection irrelevant and meaningless and then to fully channel our interactions through devices, while becoming too obsessed with control and risk-free life styles where not humans but corporations and insurance companies are making our choices.