Last Child in the Woods? ALL Children in the Woods!
“What?! No video games? Or TV?”
For three days in October, our sixth graders go on a camping trip in rural Missouri. There are no screens of any kind allowed - no laptops, no tablets, no phones. This can be a little intimidating to the average 11 year old.
Students may bring board or card games to play, and there are plenty of activities to keep them busy - hiking, fishing, nature walks, kickball, outdoor art projects, crafts, kayaking and scavenger hunts - to name a few.
Research has shown that there are benefits - physical, mental, and emotional - to playing and being outside. Physically, children need wide open spaces to run, jump, play, balance, and take risks. Outdoor play promotes small and large muscle development, and children learn to stretch and test their limits. “How high can I climb?” “How far can I jump?”
Richard Louv, author of The Last Child in the Woods, states that schools which utilize the outdoors as a continuation of their indoor classrooms have reported higher student gains in academic subjects such as mathematics and language arts. And it’s certainly a natural continuation to take subjects like science outside home or classroom walls.
Studies have even shown that time outside promotes empathy. A well-known UCLA study showed a correlation between time away from screens and empathy. Children who went on a five-day outdoor camping trip (with no devices allowed) scored significantly higher on tests of their ability to read emotions than a control group who live connected lives as usual. When children interact with growing plants and animals, they learn to think outside themselves and consider other perspectives. Just think of how many preschoolers have wanted to hold a funeral for a dead worm or butterfly they’ve discovered.
And, finally, kids enjoy being outside. Our sixth graders may not have understood all the benefits, but they definitely enjoyed the fresh air, sunshine, and camaraderie. Despite the fact one of the groups named their tent “The Fortnight Tent,” it turned out they all did pretty well without being plugged in for three days. In fact, three sixth graders independently came up to Mr. Cooke and asked why the camping trip couldn’t be longer!