Imagine this… imagine this whole quarantine “phase” is over and we’re all able to freely roam the outdoors. Where will you go? Where does your heart pull you?
For me, and for many others I’m sure, I would like to lose myself in the outdoors, go on a hike and reflect on the days we’ve spent indoors. I would like to go for a walk on the beach barefoot and watch the sunset with the people I love. Just look at the sun as it sinks and thank God he gave us back the simple joys of life, the ones we were all too busy to actually appreciate before this whole Corona ordeal took place. You see, we were all lost, lost in our routines, lost in our need to be over productive at our own expense, lost in that endless quest for fulfilling goals. We were too lost to even begin to appreciate the things that the deepest part of ourselves needs, the outdoors.
Believe it or not, no matter how much of a city kid you are, we all have a primal need for the outdoors. We don’t just merely have this need; we were born with it. We grow with it; we learn by it. As a society, we have collectively lost the understanding that we are part of nature and that nature is a part of us. We have even limited our children’s access to the outdoors, fearing that nature could be dangerous, phobic of germs and dirt. We also unknowingly introduced a competitor, a more attractive entity, which is technology.
Early childhood is a stage where kids build their most basic understanding of the world around them. It is also a time where they begin to explore and understand the concept of self. Outdoor natural environments are ideal enabling environments because they are dynamic and offer rich learning opportunities to foster children’s senses, creativity, imagination and physical activity (Campbell, 2013; Moylett & Stewart, 2012; Simmons, 1995). The gist of the matter is this: the more unstructured outdoor play we allow for children in the phase of early childhood, the more they can experience the world around them, and the more they can grow as thinkers.
Most schools in Lebanon have steered clear of allowing children to play outdoors. For some schools, the outdoors consists of a rectangular block of concrete where children spend their breaks. Some even go the extra mile to add swings and structured play items. However, at our school, at Al-Hayat International School, we have always appreciated this need for the outdoors. It is integrated into our school logo, into our school curriculum for the early years, and into our understanding that it’s a child’s right to have time to play in the outdoors.
You might walk through the school gates on any given day, gates that we all dearly miss, and see students of all ages interacting with nature. You will see children as young as 3 years old with a clipboard and pencil in hand as they create their own personal weather report. You will probably also see children from Early years III exploring the different patterns and colors of nature by collecting artifacts of the great outdoors, some even calling them treasures. Oh, but the joy that you will see as students through grades 2 to 5 play in the educational garden during their break time is one to bring back buried childhood memories and yearning of your own.
I can’t but recall the countless instances of creativity through nature that I have witnessed. One story comes to mind, and I hope I can give it justice, the story of 2nd Graders and the Lion beneath.
One sunny winter day, 2nd graders were playing tag. As they chased one another, one of our little explorers ran over a metal sheet covering a manhole. As she ran over it, she noticed an echo! She noticed that as her feet moved from soft grass to hard metal, the sound of her footsteps changed. She gathered all her friends and they started experimenting and wondering where this sound could be coming from. To them, there was only one possible logical conclusion! It was a lion roaring for freedom as he heard the puttering of their little feet. And then, a new game was born. Wake the lion! Students would run back and forth through the garden and then step on the metal sheet, eager to hear the lion’s roar. Unable to contain my curiosity, I asked one of the 2nd graders about it. She swore to me that there was a lion trapped underneath school. “You see, this lion is protecting our school”, she told me with excitement.
This story might seem silly at first, but take a deeper look, and contemplate all the things these children have learned, all the skills they have refined. They began to explore the concept of echo, they learned that different material reacts in different ways and produces different sounds on impact. Through this little social interaction in the outdoors, students refined their communication and social skills, creating strong bonds of friendship. Through their experimenting, students refined their research skills, as well as their thinking and analysis skills.
What more can we ask for? What more can we hope to achieve for our students? We are allowing them to guide their own learning in so many ways inside and outside the physical space of the classroom. If there is one thing I hope for, to all those who wander through the gates of our beautiful school, it’s this. I hope you can take a deeper look at the learning that takes place in every corner of our campus.
After this whole quarantine “phase” is over, as I contemplate on that hike and admire the sunset while on the beach, I would like to be lucky enough to witness more of these moments and stories, lucky enough to walk through the gates of our school, greet my second family, and savour the joys our children share in the outdoors.
“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” -Khalil Gibran