When the children and I leave the school building for playground time or recess, I feel a sense of relaxation and heightened awareness. We can see farther and the input from the surrounding environment to our senses changes every minute as the wind blows, the sun moves across the sky, and we cross paths with animals such as a tiny ant or flying bird. We all look forward to the change of scene.
The length of outdoor learning time varies between early childhood educational settings. In “forest” early childhood programs children spend the entire school day outdoors. In some states, public schools mandate a minimum of 20 minutes a day for recess. This wide range of time spent outdoor raises the question, How much time outdoor is optimum for children’s learning in general, and for learning what skills, concepts and information?
Some of the reports compiled by the Children & Nature Network attempt to answer these questions. The Children & Nature Network seeks to connect all children, their families and communities to nature. Chapter 23, “Health Values from Ecosystems,” of the 2011 UK National Ecosystem Assessment: Understanding nature’s value to society describes the level of scientific certainty of the Key Findings related to how “observing natural ecosystems and participating in physical activity in greenspaces play an important role in positively influencing human health and well-being.”
I hope that all children and their teachers get to spend at least part of every school day outdoor, taking safety precautions as needed to avoid hazards.
Educators can sign up for The SunWise program, a free environmental and health education program to teach K–8 children about sun safety, UV radiation, and stratospheric ozone, at https://www.neefusa.org/sunwise
See additional tips for sun safety from the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), an independent non-profit organization complementary to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), extending its ability to foster environmental education for all ages and in all segments of the American public.
In the time of Zika
Ticks, stinging insects, and mosquitoes might only be common annoyances to watch out for, but they have the possibility of being a serious health hazard if carrying a harmful bacteria or virus, or if the person bitten has an allergic reaction to the insect venom or saliva.
In Miami, Florida where mosquitoes with the Zika virus have been found, school officials are providing cans of mosquito repellent and links to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information and advisories about Zika to families and school staff. The application of mosquito repellent is not currently allowed in schools so families should apply it before children leave for school. In an interview on National Public Radio, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says recess and sports will go on as usual. The Miami-Dade County Public Schools district provides pages with links to their own information to prepare employees for the recent school opening and to CDC and the Florida Department of Health resources. Children and teachers are advised to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, socks to cover the ankles, and safely apply mosquito repellent.
The US Administration for Children & Families’ “Fact Sheet: What Head Start or Child Care Programs Need to Know About Zika Virus” (July 6, 2016) provides guidance on applying insect repellent on children. Readers are referred to the EPA page, Using Insect Repellents Safely and Effectively, which lists important points to use repellents safely, including, “Do not apply near eyes and mouth, and apply sparingly around ears.”
Seasonal allergies and asthma
Ken Roy provides guidance in “Safety First: Safer Science Explorations for Young Children” in the March 2015 issue and, in “Safety First: Preventing Allergic Reactions” in the December 2015 issue, of Science and Children. He urges teachers to take simple precautions every day such as to be educated on allergy symptoms and emergency responses.
An old (Scandinavian?) saying says, “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Yes, but…when we’re at school with a class of students and a few are not prepared for the rain or the cold temperatures we may have to keep the entire class indoors, at least one time until appropriate gear is available for all children. Summer heat advisories, warnings, and watches issued by the National Weather Service’s Forecast Office give us time to prepare for indoor recess or water activities to keep cool.
Each day, being outside is like being in a new classroom, one that needs to be checked for safety. The newly blooming flowers may be attracting bees, someone may have left hazardous trash overnight, and a squirrel or other rodent may have died where your children are going to play. (No need to remove the bees but we can alert children so they can safely observe.) Preparing yourself and your children to safely explore and play outdoors makes it a comfortable everyday experience, where everyone can get the exercise, exposure to larger vistas, and opportunities to observe nature that we need.