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The Kids Are Outside

Posted Aug 25 2011 3:16pm

Child with flower On Jolyon’s first day of pre-school on a rainy Monday morning, he wore a red raincoat and galoshes. He didn’t take them off all day and came home muddy and gleeful. That's because rain or shine, cold winter mornings or hot summer afternoons, CedarSong Preschool is 100% outdoors.

Cedarsong is one of the growing number of nature-centric preschools at which kids spend all day, every day exploring the earth. Outdoor day cares have been around for decades in Europe, but here the trend is just catching on, from the pine forests outside Portland , Oregon, to the Los Angeles metropolis

Programs vary from school to school, but exploration and independence are always at the core. At Mother Earth School in Portland, Oregon, Waldorf teachers integrate children into the life of a permaculture farm. The city of Richmond, Washington , runs an outdoor preschool in a public park. Whether kids are building mud houses, planting butterfly gardens, or learning how to identify edible plants, they are growing healthier, smarter, and happier.

A ballooning field of research shows that these adventures are invaluable for developing children. Scientists have found that children who spend more time outdoors have a lower risk of myopia , are physically stronger , better problem solvers , less hyperactive , and more compassionate . Nature therapy is also being used to treat autism. You’d think this would all be intuitive, but given that every year, children spend less time in outdoor play and more time staring at a screen, it’s obvious we need some reminding.

Michele Obama’s Let’s Move Outside campaign, the National Wildlife Foundation's Be Out There Campaign, the Children and Nature Network , and the Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors project all are working to make it easier for parents to get their kids climbing trees and collecting ladybugs. So get inspired, be convinced, and find an outdoor preschool nearby. Your kids will thank you.

--Christa Morris

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