Playtimes April 2014 - page 39

very large crab walked past the dining
table as we were hosting a dinner
But what is most outstanding
is her insatiable curiosity and her
natural ability to teach her peers to
respect and appreciate nature. So I
started to look more closely at the
Although Hong Kong is one of
the world’s greatest metropolises,
about three quarters is countryside
– we are privileged to have sandy
beaches, rocky shores, woodlands,
mountain ranges and open grasslands
at our doorstep. And everything we
read reconfirms that we should be
getting out there as much as possible.
There is so much research to show
that children who grow up with access
to “wild” places and contact with the
natural environment (as opposed to
just gardens and backyards) have pro-
environmental attitudes, and more
positive behaviours as adults. A classic
study from Yale University remains
the most comprehensive research
to date to examine the effects on
teenagers of participation in outdoor
education, specifically wilderness-
based programmes. Results indicated
that the majority of respondents
found this outdoor experience to
be “one of the best in their life”.
Participants reported positive effects
on their personal, intellectual and,
in some cases, spiritual development.
Pronounced results were found in
enhanced self-esteem, self-confidence,
independence, autonomy and
Nature deficit
But even so, the fact is that our
global children are getting out
into the wild less than ever before.
There is a remarkable collapse of
children’s engagement with nature
– even faster than the collapse of the
natural world – and this is recorded
in Richard Louv’s book
Last Child
in the Woods
. In this influential work
about the staggering divide between
children and the outdoors, Louv
directly links the lack of nature in
the lives of today’s generation – he
calls it nature-deficit – to some of the
most disturbing childhood trends,
such as the rises in obesity, attention
disorders and depression. Similarly, a
report published recently by the UK’s
National Trust shows that in one
generation the proportion of children
regularly playing in wild places in the
UK has fallen from over half to fewer
than one in ten.
Playing among trees and grass is
associated with a marked reduction in
indications of ADHD, while playing
indoors or on tarmac appears to
increase them. Eleven- to 15-year-olds
in Britain now spend, on average, half
their waking day in front of a screen.
Children who spend time in
nature are shown to be happier and
have higher critical thinking skills
than their peers who have not had
access to natural spaces. Apparently,
students who are exposed to nature
also achieve higher test scores in
maths, reading and writing than
their non-nature-exposed peers.
Children who play together in nature
are less likely to take part in bullying
behaviour and instead are shown to
develop more collaborative skills and
will demonstrate respect for others.
April 2014
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