Education: let’s reconnect between our children and nature

Journalist at Le Monde, author of The child in nature (1) and Take the kids outside! (2), Moïna Fauchier-Delavigne explains to us why nature should be put back at the heart of children’s education, and gives us the keys to reconnecting young people with their environment.

Nature is no longer a part of children’s lives. As early as 2015, four out of ten children never played outside on weekdays (3). According to a study published by the National Agency for Food Safety in 2020, sedentary lifestyles among 11-17-year-olds are exploding: 66% of them engage in less than 60 minutes of daily physical activity, but recommended by the WHO. Why have young people switched bike rides and outdoor games for their beds and screens? What are the consequences of this development? Interview with Moïna Fauchier-Delavigne.

Lyon Capitale: Today, children play less outside than their seniors. Some even seem to have lost some contact with nature. Do you share this observation?

Moina Fauchier-Delavigne: Yes, and we can even go further by saying that most young people are really cut off from nature. Teachers and educators tell many anecdotes about the children they are in contact with, who do not know that the stars really exist, who do not dare to walk barefoot in the grass, who have never jumped in a puddle, played with a stick or climbed in a wood … All these experiences in contact with nature could have seemed obvious and normal to the previous generation. They now appear quite extraordinary in most children. Not to mention that this phenomenon intensifies over time.

“Parents prefer their children to be at home to avoid what they see as the potential dangers of the outside world …”

Why have young people moved away from nature?

The children have a busy day between school, homework and leisure activities. This gives them only a little free time to play outside. They also have less freedom of movement than before. 40 years ago, a CE1 child could go to school alone, whereas today it is unthinkable. There is also an obsession with zero risk among parents, teachers, school leaders, mayors … Many sandboxes have been removed from schoolyards for health reasons, parents also prefer their children to be at home to avoid what they consider to be the potential dangers of the outside world … Screens are so many fewer opportunities to go and play outside. Not to mention the repeated confinements that have ended up taking children away from nature and anchoring them in their sedentary lifestyles.

What are the negative effects of this break with nature on children’s development?

We often talk about the risk of being outside because we are afraid of physical accidents – the child can injure himself with a stick, injure himself by falling from the swing or from a tree … – but staying indoors, very often motionless and alone behind a screen, is dangerous! The child really misses experiences that favor his physical and mental development, and the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle are always catastrophic in the short and long term. This causes problems with overweight and myopia, slows the development of physical abilities, motor skills … If the child is not moving, in contact with the natural elements, with other people, this affects his well-being maybe, he can not develop his social skills…

It is said that nature does good. What is its impact on children’s physical and mental balance?

When we are in a natural environment, the stress level drops, we feel more peaceful. A child who is allowed to live experiences in direct contact with nature – run down a grassy slope at full speed and fall, climb trees … – will develop his self-confidence. Yes, in this non-artificial and complex environment that is different from four very smooth walls without roughness, he will have to adapt, make decisions, test his limits, discover the consequences of his actions … On the contrary, a child, to whoever forbids all these experiments with sensuality and motricity receives the implicit message that he is incapable. Moreover, the time spent outside represents so many opportunities to be amazed, it is an opening towards beauty, towards the aesthetics of everyday life. It is also an opportunity for real moments of joy and sharing.

“We can take the time, daily, to observe the nature of closeness”

Contact with nature has positive effects on the child’s cognitive development. Can we think that being outside makes it possible to get better in class?

Absolutely! Being in nature is good for learning and academic success. This has also been proven by solid studies. Learning outside allows you to be calmer, promotes attention, concentration, rote learning. It also calms the relationship between children and adults. In Denmark, for example, 20% of kindergartens are schools in the forest. Pedagogy by nature facilitates learning, and extensive training plans have been drawn up in this field for teachers and educators, in certain countries such as Ireland or England since the 1990s. France, we are late, but the class outside is developing rapidly, even in Lyon for that matter.

Having outdoor activities is not always easy, especially for young city dwellers. How can parents re-establish the connection between their child and nature?

We can take the time, daily, to observe the nature of closeness. It is quite possible even if you live in the city. For example, it’s enough to hang out on the way home from school to watch a little ant, the sun shine through the trees, look at the sky together, grow a plant on the windowsill … No need to be a great naturalist to share it with his children. On weekends you can go for a walk in a park. That parents do not hesitate to buy boots and waterproof pants for their children so that they can play outside unhindered, in all kinds of weather, jump in puddles, sit on the ground, fall, even there is mud. In France, we do not dress children properly so they can play! During the holidays you can plan to go for a long walk, go camping, sleep under the stars … All these times are good for everyone, they are very important for the child’s development, they help to understand that he is an integral part of his environment that all natural elements belong to his world. Parents can also make teachers aware of the possibility of teaching outside.

Do parents still have a role to play with their teens?

Even with teenagers, nothing is carved in stone. While they generally enjoy the vacations that their parents offer, the contact with nature is mainly through activities of their choice. They can be an opportunity for them to test their physical limits, to experience the feeling of overcoming … Risk-taking should not be prevented, on the contrary. They are necessary. Especially since experiments with nature allow you to know it better, to understand that all these elements are part of their world. It will also make them want to protect her.

1. Fayard Editions (2019)
2. Robert Laffont Editions (2020)
Report published in 2015 by the French Institute for Public Health Monitoring

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