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How can we stop shielding kids from nature and help them explore it safely? Nature-based educator/author/consultant Rachel Larimore, of Samara Early Learning, explains how to better manage beneficial risky play.
As a founder of Chippewa Nature Center Preschool in Midland, Michigan, Rachel has years of experience working with parents, teachers and children in a nature-based setting. She’s also just released an online video course on risky play, complete with helpful forms and worksheets that schools can immediately put to use.
Check out Rachel’s books: “Establishing a Nature-Based Preschool” and “Preschool Beyond Walls: Blending Early Childhood Education and Nature-Based Learning.”
Rachel Larimore: And maybe that’s the silver lining of the pandemic that we’ve experienced as progress is actually slowing down and being here with each other and enjoying the moment. If you can sit here and have a conversation with me, I can teach you probably anything I know and vice versa. But if we can’t have a conversation, we don’t know how to, you know, interact with other people and problem solve. And then that interferes with everything.
John Pottenger: Welcome to the Path to Learning podcast, where three ordinary guys explore the world of education,
Jay Irwin: what’s working, what’s broken,
Scott Bultman: and what we can do to best advocate for children.
John: I’m John Pottenger.
Jay: I’m Jay Irwin.
Scott: and I’m Scott Bultman and you’re listening to the Path to Learning.
John: I have a confession to make. Go for it. I have no idea how to start this podcast. About about we just jump in and talk about who we have in the studio. Today, we have Rachel Larimore.
Jay: Yeah, she’s one of our good buddies here, cuz she’s from good ol’ Michigan.
John: Nice and close. Tell us, about her Jay.
Jay: I’m gonna tell you a little bit about her.
John: Tell us about her, Jay.
Jay: Rachel is the founder of Samara Early Learning. That’s kind of how we discovered her. She’s also the director of Chippewa Nature Center Preschool. But wait, there’s more. There’s more. She’s super duper, duper, duper … I think I over-used the duper by one maybe
John: I think three’s good.
Jay: Okay. But anyway, she honestly is a very, very well published author. She literally wrote the book on establishing nature based preschool. It’s called “Establishing a Nature-based Preschool” by Rachel A. Larimore. She wrote “Preschool Beyond the Walls” and a ton of other stuff really check the show notes and we’ll link to some of them. And I think most recently, she’s released a video course. John, can tell us a little bit about that?
John: Yeah. So we’re excited to have collaborated with Rachel to make a video course all about risky play, which is as what you would might expect play that is risky. So running down, you know, steep hills and jumping off of high heights and going fast, and, you know, tools like knives and stuff, and how the benefits of all that can be really helpful for the learning process.
Jay: Right. And just to clarify, has been confused with whiskey play, which has been very highly requested training among teachers during this time. But this is actually “risky play.”
John: We should make that course, too maybe?
Jay: I think we should. We’re getting a lot of a lot of interest in it. So …
John: Well without further ado, maybe we should let Rachel talk what she’s talking today about risky play. Yes. As we kind of you might have gotten in the intro.
Jay: Yes. But I have a feeling this is gonna be a lot of people’s favorite podcasts. Yeah.
John: So let’s jump in.
Jay: Let’s jump in.
Scott: Well, so we’re here today with Rachel Larimore, of Samara Early Learning. So I guess the first question for you, Rachel, is why suddenly is risky play in people’s minds?
Rachel: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, right now, we’re in this pandemic time. And so people are home and maybe spending a little more time with their children and recognizing what their kids really want to do. Right. So there’s that. But I think the risky play interest was before, it didn’t just start all of a sudden this spring. I think there’s interest in families, teachers and parents, both adults recognizing that there’s better ways to teach our kids there are childhoods even we had so you know, parents now grandparents, now we’re like, this isn’t anything like my childhood. And all the things I liked about my childhood seem to be missing. And so that’s where I think risky play comes into that, but also just being outside and playing. And for a lot of kids that ends up being risky play, because it’s fun to climb trees and balance on logs and swing sticks.
John: And I still like doing those things.
Rachel: Yeah, exactly.
Scott: Well, so I was out in California in February for the early childhood STEM conference there at Caltech and was in a session where people were asking questions, and one person stood up and asked about risky play. And then the whole room got very animated. Then another person stood up and said, “Yeah, risky play,” and then another person, and I just, I thought, okay, note to self, call, Rachel. Yeah. Let’s find out what’s going on. So.
Rachel: yeah, I really, I do hope. I mean, I know, this isn’t just about the pandemic. So again, I don’t want to just focus on that. But I do hope that a silver lining all of this is going back to the roots of some of that, what childhood should be, what teaching should be what parenting should be. And I’ve even seen it my neighbors so the neighbor kids are middle school, early high school, and they have this great swing set. That climbing structure that’s really more of a early adolescence kind of age structure. But the one girl has gone out and been on that swing every day since March when it was still cold, Michigan, you know, out there swinging every day for hours just swinging and being and it’s like, man, I hope that that we don’t lose that, you know? Prior to that, I’ve never saw them. They were overscheduled. I mean, I’m making that assumption for them, but I never saw them. So either they were overscheduled or I was or both of us.
Rachel: And so now here, I’m seeing them and it’s, she’s just being. She’s just there. And that groundedness I mean, physically, literally grounded right in one place, and staying still. But there’s also grounded in her own sort of social emotional aspects. And I think that’s a, that’s the benefit, and are one of the many benefits for kids? Is this social, emotional stuff? You know, it’s a way to clear our minds and clear all that other chaos that comes in the stress and the stress and worry of whether it’s a pandemic or whatever we’re facing in life.
John: Isn’t there like an element for me, like an element of curiosity? Like drives a lot of it right? Like, “Oh, I wonder what happens if I hit this stick on this tree really hard?” Will the stick break? And that curiosity is something that we should be looking to foster. Right? So it’s absolutely part of the benefits of risky play?
Rachel: And I think that, especially for older kids, what that curiosity looks like and what risky play looks like changes as kids age, right? So when they’re really young, it may not seem like that big of a deal. They’re up on a log balancing. And it’s like, oh, that’s not risky play. But for them, it feels like huge. And then when they get into their teen years, are like, Oh, my gosh, what are they doing right now? Yeah, but it’s curiosity of I wonder what will happen? And it’s also, “can I do this?” Like curiosity even about themselves, right? Like, “how am I going to feel when I do this?” “Do I want to try it?” Testing that feeling in their gut?
Scott: Yeah. You were mentioning middle school. And I remember during my middle school years, or you know, late elementary, you know, seventh grade, that kind of thing. We would build ramps with boards and bricks, and ride our bikes on. This was back when we didn’t wear bike helmets and other kinds of things. Yeah. So I’m just kind of curious, when do you think parenting switched to being sort of “helicopter-ish” over …
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I can’t I don’t know exactly like, this is the moment that happened. But it does seem like there was a, I mean, the boomer parents, you know, their lives were definitely like, “go do what you want to do,” you know. And then it seems like they were more supportive. I mean, my parents are boomer generation. You know, we, we just go do whatever.
Rachel: And in fact, I recently went home to my childhood home, which we haven’t lived in that where I was the first eight years of my life, we haven’t lived there for a long time. I went back there to that property. And there’s, it’s an old farmhouse, middle of nowhere, 40 acres surrounded it. And all my childhood memories were me and my dog, out in the woods. And I remember the paths that I would take to get to the river. And then we had a little cemetery that we were the caretakers of and all that. And so I had these memories.
Rachel: We went back recently, and I’m standing there, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, like, this is a lot of land and space. And you guys, just let me go.” And I even turned to dad and I was like, “I can’t believe you let me do this.” He’s like, isn’t that what you talk about all the time? I know, but like to really see it. And I think that’s part of why I have that passion. So, so I don’t know where you know, is it the next generation or however many long years after, I do think 24-hour news media and some of those other things culturally, that happened start starting to become a little problematic, because, you know, we’d see the same story over and over again, about something that happened with a kid JonBenet Ramsey is a good example of this. I mean, that happened a long time ago, it was like, what 97-ish? … somewhere in that timeframe. There are still times even in the last year where it will come up again. And so if if you’re hearing the same story over and over again, about all these tragedies against a child, even if it was just once it incident, starts to put in your mind, like, well, I need to protect them.
Jay: Right, we’ve probably become a lot more aware of and better at being safe, right? Yeah. But I think the thing that we’ve lost touch with are all the benefits from those risks that we that we all used to take. I mean, we didn’t wear bike helmets, I might have not been the best decision so it’s probably good. We have bike helmets, but there’s so many benefits that have been lost in our desire to nerf-ify everything, right? Yeah. Can you talk about some of those things?
Rachel: Well, even just everything in your bike story, I mean, we would write our bikes down to the corner store, party store here convenience store where I’m from as a kid, whatever the place with candy, right? No, and it was just “yeah, go do that.” And so what’s lost by not doing that is first of all independence and yourself also being able to read other people like, you know, we talked about “stranger danger,” which is such a weird thing to teach kids because we talk to strangers all the time. I mean, you go to the grocery store, you talk to strangers, you don’t know them, and you’re friendly and you interact and like, okay. But then there are some people where it’s like, Ooh, that something about the situation makes me uncomfortable. And I want to move away from that, right. So if they’re on their own, they can read that a little better.
Rachel: But there’s also community, right, going to the corner store. them knowing your name you knowing there’s. I remember a story, my brother, when he was a kid, he had skipped school, and was at the mall. And then the next day, my mom was like, “so hear you were at the mall?” “How’d you know that?” “Well, you saw people we know, at the mall, you know?” And so that kind of community and connection and since a place. So those are some of the things that get lost that I think are forgotten about the physical activity. It’s all the other thing.
Jay: Yeah. And I think I’ve I felt really trusted, right? Like, I felt empowered as a kid when my parents would finally say, yeah, you can ride your bike to 711 [and] spend your allowance, you know. That felt like a huge step. Or go down to the pond and play with your friends alone. You know, that felt really big. So I I’m nervous that we’re losing that sense of that, that opportunity to give our kids that trust.
John: Yeah, you you told a story of your pocket knife. Can you do that really quick snippet? Because it’s such a good tie-in.
Jay: Sure. Sure. Okay, so I was I was probably, I don’t know, second grade or third grade and wanted to widdle a stick. So I got a branch from the front yard and I grabbed one of my mom’s … it was a terrible … like a carrot peeling knife. It was terrible with plastic handle. And I went to the front porch and I started working away at it, no instruction or anything. And my dad pulled in the driveway and I thought, “Oh, no. This is bad.” Nowhere to run nowhere to hide. And he sauntered up to where I was sitting and I just coward. And he looked at me and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m carving.” He kind of took a pause and said, “Give me that knife.” And I handed him the knife. He said, “This isn’t the kind of knife you whittle with, just a second.” He went in and got a pocket knife and sat down and show me how to whittle. Yeah, and I mean, that changed me, you know, it was like, “oh, he trusts me to do this.” You know, it’s just a hugely powerful moment in our relationship. And in my own self-confidence, right. I felt like I’m I’m powerful. Now. I’m a I’m a kid who can handle a knife.
Scott: They taught you how to do it. He gave you some directions. And that’s the important thing. I mean, I think that was the thing with me. You know, my parents would say “you can go down to the party, store, whatever and get candy, but stay on the sidewalk and come right back.” Right. Right. Like, okay, stay on sidewalk, come right back can do that. You know, and then yet the candy you’re like, “Oh, I just gotta stay on the sidewalk. and be right back, that’s no big deal.”
Rachel: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Yeah. And that, that empowerment. I mean, the feelings that you got, but then also, it just changes the power dynamic. And that there you’re not as a child trying to please an authority or always look to this authority. But it’s okay, we’re in this together. This is negotiating. And we’re talking about my needs, your needs. It just changes the power structure.
Scott: Let’s talk about parents. So you founded the Chippewa Nature Center Preschool. And so you’ve had a lot of interaction with parents tell us what kinds of reactions do you get from parents when you talk about this kind of risky play?
Rachel: Yeah. When we first started, which was 2007, I guess we opened the doors for the first time. I thought we were going to have some push-back, right? I thought we’d get more. I don’t know about this. I don’t want my kids doing that. And there was a little bit of that. Partly, there were some people that were part of our program, we had funding through the state so that there was full scholarships. And we were the only program open at that point, because we had just opened the doors. So we had slots, and they didn’t, they weren’t coming to us because they knew what we did, and why they wanted to be there. But then that very quickly changed. All of a sudden it was parents flocking of we want this for our kids, either. We had this in our own childhood, and I want them to have that too. Or I recognize that they’re not getting it now. Even in my own parenting and I want them to have that. Also, grandparents the same way. Like I don’t see my kids doing this and I’d really like them to come. So there were a lot of inquiries that way, like I want my grandkids to have this you know, sort of you service The parents, but yeah, people flock to it.
Scott: Well, are other schools dialing back? Is that what allowed you guys to stand out? Has risk management become a major issue in schools?
Rachel: I’m not sure it’s just risk management as it is driven by academic outcomes. And, you know, they have to have these cognitive skills. And I mean, I always contend, do they really need? I mean, yes, they should have some cognitive skills. But is that the priority? Is that the most important thing, because there’s a whole lot, especially social emotional development, that if you can sit here and have a conversation with me, I can teach you probably anything I know, and vice versa. But if we can’t have a conversation, and we don’t know how to, you know, interact with our people and problem solve, and then that interferes with everything. I mean, there’s some great studies out about entrepreneurs, even who actually weren’t that successful at school academically, but socially, they thrived. And now, you know, they’re off starting new businesses and doing new things. So sort of what’s the balance and the priority? And I’m more of someone who does believe in the holistic child, right, that all of those domains have a role. But I think that’s been so much of it is that school has just become? These are the academic outcomes. And these are the standards, and it isn’t so much about social emotional development.
Scott: Have you had to make a case for the academic benefits of risky play? You have to go through that with certain people and explain to them what the kids are actually learning?
Rachel: Oh, for sure. risky play, and even just nature based play in general, even if it’s not really high risk? Yeah,
John: but because it’s not academically, you can’t grade on how well you played in nature,
Rachel: Exactly. Like how but how are you gonna teach them their letters, you know, Oh, okay. I mean, we can, if that’s really important, we can draw our names and blister dirt with sticks, which we do and, and, of course, that still, though, is when children are ready for that and interested in showing that they want to learn that. I mean, we will encourage that another ways, like in preschool, pretty common is to have small group times where it’s a teacher led activity for, you know, 10-15 minutes … a pretty small, short amount of time. But that might be a place where we bring in some more really focused academic time. But even if we’re out like, Okay, if we’re interested in letters and shapes and all that, let’s find them. They’re out there in the woods. Let’s, you know, see if we can find them. Oh, look at that, and especially preschoolers. They want their name. Right? So I’d be looking for the R’s because it’s, you know, the only letter that matters, like when you’re three and four, like, yeah, so you mean, you have a name that’s different than mine? So I think the challenge as an administrator of a school like that, is being able to articulate the showing the learning is happening, right and highlighting, Okay, it looks like play. But here’s what they’re learning. And so that’s especially important to communicate that to parents, but even educators, sometimes it’s like, well, if it doesn’t look, like I’ve been trained, that it should look, it doesn’t look like those academic outcomes, how can I label it? And so starting to open up our minds a little bit as to what counts as all those different literacy learning math science?
John: is risky play something that people can get a not a degree in, but like, is it training? You know, if you’re a parent, you’re looking for some, you know, a school that embraces this idea? What sorts of things should they be looking for asking what kinds of questions? Oh, is that a harder thing to answer? Is it kind of
Rachel: Yeah, and we don’t have certifications necessarily. And there is push for that within our, especially within the nature-based profession? of Okay, we’re doing this, how do we know we’re doing it? Well, there have been some professional standards that have been written. So natural start Alliance is a professional association of nature-based educators. And just I was part of a team, I guess it’s a year ago now that wrote professional standards for Okay, here’s how we should be behaving in terms of teachers and safety and so forth. So there’s guidelines. So I think as a parent, you know, is the program aware of that? Also, what training specifically have they had in both child development and the pedagogy, this nature-based approach, and also risk management, even first aid and safety issues? You know, a lot of programs now are leaning more towards like a wilderness first aid versus a traditional one? If they’re farther away from the building? I mean, if they’re close, then yeah. But sort of opening your mind as to what the norm you know, the rules look like in those spaces. The State of Washington has recently piloted or is in the process of piloting an all outdoor preschool program to license programs that are entirely outdoors, because up to that point, they couldn’t license them because the rules were all about the building, right? Like how hot the water is out of the tap. And if the outlet covers are covered. Yeah. So it’s like, well, how do we license it? So they have drafted standards that I think will really be a guidepost for a lot of other states. And some states have already incorporated some rules. But I would encourage people to look at that, like, are they licensed? What kinds of training has the have the educators gone through, but there isn’t really a specific certification or training
Scott: You’re doing … I mean, I attended, I think it was probably three years ago, you had a two day workshop here in Grand Rapids. And I was really encouraged by how many different programs we had people that were, you know, they were school districts that were sending people to learn how to set up a nature-based preschool in their district, you know, so, obviously, there must be some interest out there that’s growing for that kind of happen.
Rachel: Yeah, and I’m definitely seeing that more in the in the K-12. Well, K-3, you know, early childhood, especially, but not just in pre-K, right. But in the in the schools, whether they’re public or private schools, but I’m definitely seeing a lot more of that. And transforming playgrounds into more natural play areas. You know, we talked about back to risky play, and these climbing and things, actually pretty clear evidence that natural play areas, kids get hurt less often. In traditional playgrounds, they get bored pretty quick. Right? And this is where that integration of our physical development and our cognitive development, I mean, I think about the slide all the time, like the ones with the steps, and then of course, the metal. Yeah, the hot metal slide. Total side note, have you guys seen the meme that’s out there about the like a cheese grater as the slide of it, that’s 2020. Anyway, that’s pretty clever. You have to look it up. We’ll put it in the show notes, right? I’ll send it
Rachel: No, but the slide. So the steps are the same distance every day, the handrail is the same diameter every day. So toddlers, they kind of do this side shimmy, and then, you know, you get a little older and they’re kind of reaching up above their head, but they’re crawling up, and then they get kids go where they can just kind of run up the stairs out and holding on. And then almost every kid once they get bored of that, what do they do they go to the bottom of the slide. Yeah. And climb up it right? Yeah. And parents and adults, educators have all kinds of adults of all kinds think, oh, they’re just being difficult. But they’re not. They’re bored. they’ve solved the other problem. And their brains or cognitive aspects of their brain doesn’t have to be involved. And you think about that, even as adults, if you walk down stairs, where there have not like shorter or farther apart than normal, and you kind of stumble. Yeah. And you’re it’s almost like your brain wakes up like, Whoa, maybe I need to participate. What’s happening? Yeah, this isn’t kind of thing with kids. So natural play areas they aren’t that scripted in terms of the distance and the diameter. And so it’s ever changing. And then also, if they get bored with it, the kids can move it. You know, it has movable parts.
John: A log they can roll it or whatever.
Rachel: Yeah, I see kids climbing on those like tubes that connect one section to another, they climb over the tube, on the tube, which I can easily fall down, you know, eight feet or whatever. Because they’re bored. So yeah, I totally have seen it.
Rachel: Yeah, they almost always use them inappropriately. Like so if those traditional playgrounds are used the way they’re meant to, the injury is really low. But they almost always get bored with it. And so then they don’t use them appropriately. Whereas in a natural play area the injuries are pretty minor, you know, which, that’s another thing you were talking about, like how things have changed. Skinned knees, and elbows and all of that, like just those minor injuries. It sure seems … I don’t have any data to back that up … but it sure seems like I see less of that. Right. And it’s like, I remember just always being covered and scabs. Like, and you could also see it in your pants, you know, when we had a grass stains.
Jay: Yeah, yeah.
Scott: We did a podcast recently with Doug Stowe who does a lot of maker, you know, in the in the shop, he’s a master craftsman. So he has his kids use a lathe and, you know, do some of that whittling, like Jay did know, that kind of thing. And so, you know, he was asked, like, do the kids ever cut themselves? And he kind of chuckled and said, Well, once, until they find out, that’s how you get hurt. And then they stopped doing that they learned from that.
Rachel: Yeah. And I think also building on that. We know that real tools that are actually like in that case, sharp, right, they’re actually less likely to get hurt and cut themselves. It’s when and you see this at home when your knives have suddenly dulled. And you’re trying to cut. Yeah, you’re pushing harder and you’re the wrong way you’re trying to fight it. And that’s when you get cut. Right? And then it’s like, oh, I was a good sharp … I have a nice clean cut. And I’m not gonna do that again. You know?
Jay: Yeah, that’s true.
John: What would you say to parents who are, you know, open to this idea, but there’s still like, “Okay, I have no idea where the line is.” And I know that there’s a course that we’re working on with you that kind of talks about some of that, but like if you’re a parent you’re trying to do risky play is there a first step? Or is there a thing to think about, you know how to how to wait like backoff, but at the same time protect, you know, because that’s pretty open ended question I know. But …
Rachel: Yeah, I mean, without getting in, it’s so hard because there’s so many scenarios could happen, right? But I do think that there are ways to check yourself. And the big thing, and I say this with teachers also, is when a child asks if they can do something, and I decide to say no, or my immediate reaction is no, I have to stop and say, why am I saying no? Nine times out of 10? You’re saying no, because you don’t want to deal with the cleanup. You are not really wanting to just stand there and watch them play or whatever it’s about you almost isn’t about like, “Oh, this actually is not that big of a deal. I’ll let them do this.” And that can be sort of risky, pushing the bounds that way. It can be making a messy art project. jumping in a puddle. I mean, no, don’t jump that puddle, you’ll get wet. Okay, well, we could just dry the clothes. Yeah, right. Wash them.
John: We’re lazy. We’re … like you said, we don’t want to deal with it.
Rachel: Yeah, right. Now, there may be times like even the mud puddle. Okay, we’re out on a hike. And it’s kind of cold and I know, we’re going to be out here for another two hours, then my response might be? No, because I’m worried that you’ll be too cold and I want to keep you safe when we come back. Right? This will be here. Yeah. And then we’ll just be getting in the car or Yeah. Right. So to think about, really, why am I saying no, that’s such
John: A good tip. I love that.
Jay: And I think one of the one of the most compelling parts about risky play is having kids learn how to assess things for themselves. Right. So helping them ask those questions for themselves to realize what the outcomes are is ultimately what you want to do. Right?
Rachel: And for younger kids, that the classic This is younger, but the battle over wearing their coat in the wintertime, put your coat on, it’s cold outside, and they’re like, I don’t wanna you know what, just carry the coat with you, the adult. Go outside. And then when they’re like, “Oh, it’s cold. I’m kind of cold. Can I have my coat now?” Yep, here you go. Right? Because otherwise, you just spent all this time getting warm inside or you know, bundling up inside It’s hot. Like, why am I wearing all this is not comfortable. So to make the cognitive connection, and maybe it’s not explicit, but it’s just they’re feeling “oh I’m cold, I need a coat. I get this now. This is why I wear that.” And so picking your battles dude. It comes back to the “No,” like, why am I saying no, you can’t wear your coat?
John: Right, because I’m gonna have to carry your coat for you and then have to follow you around and but you’re also robbing them of a learning opportunity. So
Rachel: Exactly. That’s why I put hats in hoods, by the way, when they’re like, I don’t wear my hat or mittens. Okay, but you’re gonna carry it. I’m gonna put it in your hood … your coat.
Scott: I was just thinking about parental pressure. Like, one of the things that I did early on was I gave my kids iPhones. You know, I’ve been not too early, but you know, probably more early than the rest of the people. So I was, I was the hated parent among the parents, because … it was me. And, and the issue was, we’ve been wondering who to blame. From my standpoint, I was lo-jacking my children, right? I wasn’t giving in to them. I wasn’t, you know, giving them more screen-time. Right. I’m like, my kids are gonna be out. And I’m gonna know where they are. You know, but there’s this kind of the sense of like, with parents that are sort of the quote unquote, “free range parents,” you know, that probably their biggest thing they have to overcome is judgment from other parents, you know, members of society and that type of thing.
Rachel: For sure.
John: Good point,
Rachel: Which we’re seeing … I mean, gosh, we’re seeing on sort of a global level right now that pressure of how we behave and people judging us, but what we know is probably safer, or doesn’t hurt anything, you know, just right, not to get into the politics of like, but seriously how we behave …
Scott: And I guess the discussion about I mean, I like the way that you put it, which is to say, Look, let your kid go out of that account. Don’t you know, because what you’re doing is you’re teaching them hey, I know you’re going to be wanting this coat. You just don’t know that you’re going to be wanting this coat, but you will. Well in about 5 … 4 … 3 …
Rachel: Yeah, exactly.
Jay: So nature, yeah, we all I think instinctively know, or we were told, you know, like, it’s good to be outside, go get some fresh air, yada, yada, yada. But you’ve brought to me a whole other range of why all the benefits of being in nature. Can you lay some of those out?
Rachel: Yeah, I mean, first of all, I think it’s important to remember that we are animals, right? We’re, we’ve made this world for ourselves and these houses and things. But you could also argue like beavers did that do with their little beaver dam and they’ve been in there. Yes, there’s whole other world of beavers, I don’t know. But we’re animals and we are hard-wired to need the natural world, we need it for our physical development. There’s lots of research coming out now that sort of growing trends of nearsightedness, or myopia among young children, and that the natural UV light actually helps with eye development, and reduces that amount of the number of nearsightedness, we’re seeing.
Rachel: Where I thought it was just screen-time. That’s part of it, but it’s actually what’s being lost by being inside on the screens. Right? Yeah. And I mean, even the benefits of vitamin D, you’re hearing that more now, like, actually, we do need some vitamin D, right? Because that’s what we, for thousands of years, that’s what we needed for our bodies and our health, being physically more active. We know that outdoor air is cleaner than indoor air. We don’t have all this off-gassing from carpets and paints and so forth.
Rachel: Then there’s the sort of overlap between physical and social-emotional that happens, like even views of nature, reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure. That’s just seeing it. That’s not even being out in it. Right. But then we do know, I mean, most of us, you know, they talk about go to your happy place, like you’re not going to go to the grocery store at five o’clock on a Friday night, right? Like, that’s what you picture. But you know, maybe it’s Lake Michigan on the shoreline or something. I mean, that’s where we go to get that calm. And there’s studies that have shown better attention after being outside. cognitively, we know there’s better problem solving, sensory awareness. I think it’s also to remember, all the other things that we definitely don’t include in school standards, but that we may not even think about too much in terms of, like sensory awareness of sounds.
John: We don’t even hear the birds chirping or rustling the leaves or you just don’t even notice that there’s so you lose that ability to sense, right? Is that what you’re exactly?
Rachel: That’s exactly right. Yeah, and I wish I could remember the community, I’m not going to remember it, I need to look it up. But when the tsunamis hit, which is a long time ago, time flies. But there was this community that they had passed down several generations that when the birds stopped singing, yeah, you go to higher ground, right. And so that’s an awareness of at a different level than most of us. We owe the birds stopped singing, I didn’t even notice. And I’ve noticed that even I’ve said to kids, like, oh, man, those crows are really angry right now. Like maybe there’s a, you know, a hawk around or something like what do you mean, because you could hear them carrying on. But so that’s even this awareness of other species? I’m not sure how we labeled that. Right. Yeah. Seems like that’s an important part of our humanity.
John: Yeah. Well, you’ve talked about the ability to be in nature shows you that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. So maybe you could speak to that. You’ve said that before.
Rachel: Yeah. And I’ve lately been using a quote from Wendell Berry that talks about how we’re not really as separate from nature as we think we are. And that the nature-based pedagogy helped to disrupt the human nature binary, right, we sort of think it was like, it’s humans and nature. And yeah, as opposed to like, well, we’re part of the system, like, turns out, we’re actually vulnerable to viruses and germs and things. And have you all heard that, but
Scott: Should I be worried?
Rachel: But you know, we’re part of this system. So first of all, recognizing that we’re part of that, but then also seeing that, yeah, we are part of this thing that’s so much bigger than us. That we’re just this tiny little thing. And that’s, for me, that’s spiritual development. And I don’t mean that in any religious sense at all. But truly this connectedness, right, like, if, if I’m the queen bee, well, then nothing else or anyone else matters. Right? Right. But if I’m part of the system, it’s like, oh, your success and livelihood does matter. And not just other humans, but oh, the health of the river that I use …You know, I live in a town that we just recently had a bunch of dam failures, and all of a sudden, the natural world had a huge impact on our human lives. Right. And we so often try to separate that, but no, it doesn’t work that way.
Scott: Yeah, I worry a lot, I think, you know, a kind of a theory of mine. But I think a lot of the social things we’re experiencing now are due to the fact that we had changes in our early childhood at that time, when kids were, you know, bonding with each other and the, you know, the EQ and the whole social emotional intelligence You know, we’ve really kind of, we don’t see each other as part of a, you know, part of the same race, so to speak, but, but you know, a lot of what you’re talking about, to me, just seems like common sense. And I keep wondering how did we talk ourselves out of common sense and when did that happened? And that guess that’s the documentary filmmaker in me as I really want to address that. Because I think we, we we know that what you’re saying it’s absolutely true. We don’t need the evidence to show it, you know.
Rachel: Right. And I wonder how much of that is our culture of this idea of progress, right? And what counts is progress, and we’ve had this bigger, better “produce more” kind of mentality and maybe progress … and maybe that’s the silver lining of the pandemic that we’ve experienced as progress is actually slowing down and being here with each other and enjoying the moments. You know somebody with all this online schooling stuff we’ve been talking about … online preschools are are growing now, which is asinine. Like, there’s just, I hope they go out of business really quickly.
Scott: But I think it’s business. I think you’ve been sold. I think we’ve been sold on these ideas. Because there’s a way to … you know, curriculum, you know, academics, you know, playground equipment, all this stuff. I hate to single out any particular industries, but you’re all guilty. So there you go …
Rachel: Right. No, it’s absolutely true, because sticks and dirt are cheap, right? Like, you don’t have to buy any images. It’s readily available. For all your listeners, please do not purchase a log that looks like a plastic log. That just looks like a log. Right? That’s, like molded to look like a log. Oh, yeah … happens. And I think they sell a lot of them too. Right. But so that’s the anyway, but back to what I was thinking about is I had some parents and teachers we were talking about like, oh, man, what’s the impact of them not being together in school? And there absolutely is the social emotional part of it. But then I said, like, you know, I didn’t go to preschool, I went to half day kindergarten, I was an only child. It worked out all right, you know, I’m sure I have quirks that other people would love to change about me. And I have some of my own do that. Right. But it’s not the end of the world. So it was three months that they played. Maybe actually, in the end, we’re gonna find out that was the best thing that could have happened, right?
John: Well, if you’re anything like me, nature is just one of those things that just recharges you. And the fact that it’s not in schools, as much as it should be is as a shame. And so I hope that what we were able to hear today from Rachel is something that inspires you if you’re thinking about incorporating it into your child’s education.
Jay: Absolutely. And I’d really encourage anybody who’s interested in more to check out some of her other resources that will link to in the show notes.
John: She’s got lots of wisdom. She’s done this for a long time. She’s working on her doctrine and in the in the topic, and she’s started a school on her own. So she definitely has the background and the education to bring it to life.
John: And, uh, if you want to find out more, like Jay said, there’ll be a lot of links in the show notes. But also, if you wanted to check out that risky play course that we put together, we’ll definitely put links to that in the show notes as well. And if you’re interested in supporting us, Jay, where can they do that?
John: Yep, that’s where the courses are.
Jay: Mm hmm, and we have our own pathtolearning.us, or it’s a hot debate whether it’s dot US, but check us out there at pathtolearning.us
John: Yeah, I would say like comment on the one you think it should be .us or “dot us.”
Jay: Yeah, there you go. The podcasts don’t really have a lot of common don’t really do that though. You can smash somebody else’s like button or something.
John: Yeah. Do that. Do that for us. Yeah. Or “dot US.”
Jay: Anyway, thank you all for tuning in. And we’ll be back soon. Talk to you soon.