To the Editor:
Regarding your recent In Perspective article on the BioKIDS curriculum and its use in the Detroit public schools (“Scientific Reasoning: No Child’s Play,” May 13, 2009), while I applaud the science gains made by participating students, I wonder if perhaps we have missed the underlying reason for them. Maybe it’s the nature activities that take children outdoors that make the difference.
Research shows that children need a regular connection to the natural world for optimal intellectual and emotional development. Richard Louv’s groundbreaking book Last Child in the Woods references many such findings, including a 2002 report of a study covering 10 years and 16 states that found significant gains in student achievement when “environment-based education” approaches were used. Children need to experience nature to grow well, just as flowers need sun, water, and soil to bloom.
It’s time we embraced the truth that children bear no resemblance to lab rats. They should not be caged in a classroom for the better part of 180 days a year. Who would learn better: the child engaging all senses when encountering an earthworm in a field, or the one looking at yet another page in a book while confined to a desk? We know that toddlers learn by doing, experiencing the world around them in very physical ways. Yet once those toddlers reach age 5, we largely expect them to learn by sitting.
Teachers (and parents) need to overcome their fear of the world beyond the four walls of the schoolhouse. Environment-based education does not require a nearby mountain range or rainforest. If students in Detroit can find nature just outside their classroom, it can be done anywhere.
Prismatic Services Inc.
A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 2009 edition of Education Week as Taking Children Outdoors: A Factor in Science Gains?