Online Learning versus Learning with Nature, by guest blogger Catherine Ross

“As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of the flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unconsciously to the soughing of the trees…”, wrote Valerie Andrews in her book called ‘A Passion for this Earth’.

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Photo Courtesy: Philippe Put

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of playing games like hide and seek and blind man’s bluff with the kids in the neighborhood. We were a bunch of 8-10 kids who would gather in the biggest garden available (which was, luckily, ours) or the park every evening around tea-time and spend at least two hours together. We would either play one of the above mentioned games or simply make up new and innovative games of our own, squealing away as we chased each other. And the feeling of accomplishment which came with emerging as the winner in such games was unparalleled – we would strut around the house all evening, proudly proclaiming the same till our moms shut us up!

Another vivid memory is the annual treat of going out camping with dad for a weekend in our summer holidays. My younger brother and I used to start badgering him a week before the summer vacations actually began – eventually he would have to give in and then off we would go, with our sleeping bags in tow. One particular summer, dad was out of town for the entire duration of the holidays and we were particularly morose until our mum came up with a brilliant idea – we ended up camping with our tents and sleeping bags in our very own backyard!

However, if you ask my kids today what activities they enjoy the most, they would probably say it’s the PlayStation game ‘EyePet and Friends’, ‘Temple Run’ or some such online or mobile game. Playing outdoors would never figure in their list of activities at all, let alone favorite activities!

A study carried out in the USA titled – An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play – came up with the following major findings:

* Children in the USA today spend less time playing outdoors than the previous generation.

* The number of regular play activities is higher for indoor activities than outdoor ones (96 per cent kids watch television regularly, 81 per cent play online games every day).

* Obstacles to playing outdoors focus on the child’s increased use of television and computers at home.

Then comes the question: Does it matter? After all, one should change with the changing times. In the present age of tablets, smart phones, cable TV, Facebook and YouTube, is it actually important for today’s kids to know the difference between the daisy and the chrysanthemum, a fowl and a chicken?

My answer would veer somewhere between a yes and a no. I don’t think kids would be affected as adults if they don’t know the difference between two different species of plants; what would matter more is picking up qualities like problem-solving skills, cooperation and teamwork, which they could have picked up while getting dirty climbing trees and splashing through mud puddles with other kids of the same age group. These little joys of childhood learning are slowly but surely disappearing today.

I, being a homeschooling mum to my two kids, definitely feel we are better off with the internet at our disposal today. And though some parents may not agree with me, I do feel children can benefit from educational games, provided they are regularly monitored as well as used in moderation. One, they get a sense of accomplishment while clearing the different levels of a game. It spurs them on to try harder and inculcates self-confidence in them. Two, it does help to improve eye-hand coordination as well as gets them more tuned into how a computer works, which undoubtedly, is something one must know in this day and age. Also, certain games do test the reasoning abilities of the kids, thus sharpening their logical power.

However, outdoor activities in the lap of nature teach things which online learning cannot match. First of all, outdoor games are multi-sensory activities wherein you can touch, hear, see and smell things. It is an imaginative process, where there are no pre-conceived ideas and you can change rules to suit your needs. Interacting with other people in person develops a certain level of empathy and understanding between fellow beings plus improves communication skills, which is impossible in the case of online learning. And last but not the least, kids build up their immunity levels and keep themselves fit with all the running around. Would all this be possible if they were cooped indoors all day, with a touch screen tablet in their hands? No way!

So when Richard Louv writes: “We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when our world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist…”, I completely agree with him. Because it is possible to strike a balance between the time our kids spend indoors and the time they spend outdoors, in order to make them have the best of both worlds.

After all, in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. That’s the fun of it. Don’t we owe it to our kids?

Author Bio: Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way in enhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at http://kidslearninggames.weebly.com/

The Summer Of Running Free

IMG_3274This summer has been glorious. It has been slow, uncluttered and deliberate. It has been uncomplicated. Moments of serenity have peppered the routine whining, that at this stage of the game is more like the soundtrack to my life; a white noise that occasionally demands to be hushed.

Almost one month in and I can say so far this has been my favourite summer with my boys. My favourite summer since becoming a mom.

The choices that I have made this past month have been mindful. After a grueling winter trapped much of the time inside, my only desire for this summer was to be outside.

It was years ago, my first born was still an infant, tucked into his snowsuit with just his rosy cheeks exposed to the cold air, when I pushed our red stroller up and down the city sidewalks. The thick treaded tires ploughed through the snow and my son cooed contentedly. It was when I was stopped at a traffic light that an older lady, weighed down by her heavy wool coat peered into the stroller. She smiled and asked me if the bundle was a boy or a girl. When I replied a boy, she said that she had one piece of advice for me. I bristled. I was hesitant to listen. I was tired of well-meaning strangers giving me their two-cents on everything from feeding to sleeping and hat wearing.

“Sometimes a boy just has to run free outdoors.”

Most intended perils of wisdom have been forgotten over the years, but this one has stuck.

It didn’t take this crippling winter juxtaposed with the summer that proceeded it for a what felt like a fleeting minute to confirm that, yes, sometimes a boy just has to run free outdoors.

This summer has been the summer of running free.

The boys have passed more of their waking hours outside. They’ve toiled in the garden, snorkelled in the sea and fished the lake. Untethered by any schedule they have indulged their curiosities. They’ve asked questions and sought out answers. They’ve collapsed in bed exhausted with tanned skin, grazed knees and dirty feet.

I’ve watched my sons gently pick up snails, caterpillars and geckos. I’ve watched them marvel at how small a person is in comparison to an ocean, but how powerful a human’s actions can be.

My middle son, devastated to learn how lionfish are encroaching on Caribbean sea life schooled his brothers resulting in a serious discussion that united them together as eco-warriors. My misty-eyed boys have brought the plight of the monarch butterflies and the serious threats facing the bee population to my attention. It’s humbling and inspiring to witness how awestruck they are by nature.

The idea of nature-deficient children and what Louv suggests that will mean for the well being of our society, is frightening to me.

It’s as frightening to me as drowning polar bears.