Outdoor Life With Children

Helle speaking today,

This summer I traveled the East Coast of USA, teaching child care professionals and kindergarten teachers in outdoor life and learning processes with children.The picture above is from a course I did for kindergarten teachers with wonderful collegues Sigrid D’Aleo and Robin at Sunbridge Institute, Spring Valley, NY State, USA. For the past 6 weeks I’ve also been traveling and teaching in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, and I am still traveling as you read this. Meeting so many dedicated people working with children who really want to make a difference in children’s lives, is very touching. It brings me joy and also hope, as I have been dedicated to working for thriving childhoods for more than 30 years. If some of the hundreds of people I have met and worked with these last months are reading along: thank you so much for opening your homes and hearts, for allowing me into your kindergartens, and for your great efforts to arrange all the logistics every place I went and will go.Thank you also for all the positive inspiration, dedication and qualities you bring into the work with me. In this newsletter I want to share some essential thoughts and insights about outdoor life with children, inspired by my recent travel in USA this summer. In the next newsletter in 14 days I will share some more insights from the traveling I am presently doing Down Under.

Back To Nature

Today, more than 50% of the worlds children grow up in big cities. This means that many children today lack a natural connection to nature and have only little access to it. In my home country Denmark only 23% children between 5-12 years spend time outside on a daily basis, compared to 42% of their parents at the same age. However, many people today really want to (re)create a natural connection to nature for themselves and their children, and to embrace the opportunities and benefits of being outside. Most cities have parks, and can certainly be used as recreative spaces, for doing walks, experiencing the seasons, climbing trees, playing, watching animal life, and so on. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a real garden, the possibilities of learning and thriving outside are close to endless. Still many parents and pros around the world face the issue of not quite knowing how to approach the outdoor life. Many feel much more confident in e.g. initiating meaningful activities indoors.

Approaching Outdoor Living With Children

When doing the courses in USA this summer, we did nature walks and trained the quality of being present at the same time. Being outdoors and trying to practice real, heartfelt presence and awareness to where we are and what we are actually doing brings forth some essential aspects, and I want to share 3 of them with you:

  • Slowing Down While Walking is a welcoming reminder to many of us. It comes naturally with practicing awareness: it seems natural to really slow down if you want to open up to the world around you.
  • Embracing Silence & Practicing Listening and desisting the need of explaining everything to children; children see and experience everything differently and use their senses, feelings and imagination to connect to the world. Leaving the phone at home is a very good start.
  • Sparking creativity by using your imagination to find and use the natural ‘habitat’ to create fairytales for children. Open up to creative thinking and use pine cones, oak nuts, little branches, leafs, feathers, stones and so on, all depending on the local nature where you live.

There is much more to be said about outdoor life with children, and so many ways in which we can create a healthy and nurturing environment for our children outside. However, I truly hope that these little insights can inspire you to use the outdoor spaces to live, breathe, learn and thrive with the children in your life. Feel free to comment right underneath and tell us how you spend time outside with children, or ask us any question on the topic you feel like. Logo Gif 300

Comments (4)

  • Padma

    I truly appreciate this outdoor living ,I do practice it everyday morning when I send my daughter to school, I carry bread crumbs with me and I make her throw it to little sparrows in her boarding point.we start little early so that we bird watch a while .way back home we observe the trees ,fruit bearing especially , sometimes we adopt trees name it, etc.

    • Anna

      Dear Padma,

      That sounds wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing and creating a vivid inner picture of you and your daughter in the quiet mornings.

  • Heidi Burke

    Dear Helle and Anna,

    I teach in a mixed age kindergarten (ages 3-6) in an elementary Waldorf school in a rural area where there is a large amount of consciousness around organic farming, sustainable living, and natural healing. Our kindergarten garden is a beautiful space with trees, sand areas, chickens, vegetable gardens, and fruit trees. The children play there daily while the adults are constantly tending to the garden in their presence which as you know has many benefits! Our garden space borders the grades school playground which is within sight of the kindergartners. The playground at our school has a very different feeling from what the children experience when they are in the kindergarten. It has more of a recess vibe as the teachers who are supervising are often visiting while children are off playing. Also, the children do not have the same outdoor dress expectations that they have in the kindergarten. Even the first graders(who have recently just been in our kindergarten and whose families we have worked with for years to cultivate a culture around dressing for the weather do not have to come dressed in hats or rain/snow pants. I have seen a decrease in the amount the children spend time outside during their day because of this and it really concerns me. It is a very different experience from the kindergarten where the attitude is “all weather is good weather” and feels conflicting to what it is we are trying to cultivate for the health of the children. We are planning to have a conversation with the first grade teacher and I have recently presented a question to the full faculty around what we can imagine for the children when they are on the playground. However, when I shared my thoughts during the discussion about creating rules on the playground that explored ways teachers can model caring for the space in the children’s presence when outside vs. focusing solely on the children’s conduct, I was told that the supervision time is used for sharing observations about the students, that the children in the grades are no longer imitating the adults, and that if the adults were working on projects they would not be able to supervise. HELP! It seems no matter how hard my colleague and I try to promote what it is we do in the kindergarten and to encourage the grades teachers to apply some of those concepts into the grades, i.e. on the playground that there is a resistance. And, I worry about the mixed messages it is sending to the families once they continue on to the grades as we seem to be presenting a very different picture before they go. Also, I wonder about how the children can go from something being inappropriate 90 days ago when children were in the kindergarten to appropriate once they are in first grade i.e. wearing hats, rain gear, etc. How can I can I encourage my colleagues at my school which we are all a part of to adopt some of the concepts of kindergarten into the grades when there is a lack and even desire to understand our work?

    Sincerely frustrated,

    Heidi Burke

    P.S. Hi Helle! I have met your beautiful god daughter here in Viroqua and she is with a wonderful family! Thank you for the work you do! We are sharing it with our parents.

    P.P. S. I still have your books and hope to explore other ways of selling them this year.

    • AnnaF

      Dear Heidi.
      Anna speaking first: Thank you so much for reaching out on our blog and for sharing the description of your lovely and lush garden and for sharing your concerns. It’s really touching to sense your genuine concern for the former kindergarten children.
      Beneath I copy-pasted Helles answer to you – She just replied to you:

      Dear Heidi,
      Thank you for your question. I have talked to many Kindergarten teachers like you with similar experiences when the children leave for primary school.
      A child has to be about 12 years old before it can feel the right temperature, so the grade teachers are still also responsible for the dressing in the lower grades. How to built bridge between kindergaten and school can be very difficult and I wonder why a little school like yours doesn’t seem to support its own kindergaten in a more connected way. Of course the parents also play an important role in prioritizing dressing their children to fit all kinds of weather so the children can spent good and healthy time outside.
      I would suggest that you ask for study work of the 12 senses, where warmth is one of them, and work on discussing the consequences if the issues are not being adressed.
      – And then you just have to keep on working for what you believe in as well!
      Send my love to Anne Marie and Amelia.
      Love, Helle