Experiencing Nature in the City: An Analysis & Case Study
By R. Zeeneeshri
Throughout most of history, when children were free to play, their first choice was often to flee to the nearest wild place—whether it was a big tree or brushy area in the yard or a watercourse or woodland nearby. Two hundred years ago, most children spent their days surrounded by fields, farms or in the wild nature at its edges. By the late twentieth century, many children’s environments had become urbanized. But even then, as recently as 1970, children had access to nature and the world at large. They spent the bulk of their recreation time outdoors, using the sidewalks, streets, playgrounds, parks, greenways, vacant lots and other spaces “left over” during the urbanization process or the fields, forests, streams and yards of suburbia. Children had the freedom to play, explore and interact with the natural world with little or no restriction or supervision.
The lives of children today are much different. Children today have few opportunities for outdoor free play and regular contact with the natural world. Their physical boundaries have shrunk due to a number of factors. A ‘culture of fear’ has parents afraid for their children’s safety. A 2004 study found that 82% of mothers with children between the ages of 3 and 12 identified crime and safety concerns as one of the primary reasons they don’t allow their children to play outdoors (Clements 2004). Due to ‘stranger danger,’ many children are no longer free to roam their neighborhoods or even their own yards unless accompanied by adults. Many working families cannot supervise their children after school, giving rise to latchkey children who stay indoors or attend supervised after-school activities. Furthermore, children’s lives have become structured and scheduled by adults, who hold the mistaken belief that this sport or that lesson will make their children more successful as adults. The culture of childhood that played outside is gone and children’s everyday life has shifted to the indoors.
On 31 May 2014, a total of 50 children, parents and teachers from the Education in Human Values programme of the Sathya Sai Baba Centre of Bangsar, visited the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia. As early as 9am, they hiked their way up to the Jungle Canopy walk to experience the flora and fauna present in a secondary forest. They then went on a nature trail to discover the puzzle-like tips of camphor trees. This phenomenon was only available because the trees were planted and grew at the same time. The trail then led them to a waterfall to cool off the day’s heat.
The trip was a risky one as children as little as 4-years of age were present during the strenuous hike. Also, the big group was divided into 2 smaller groups to manage the crowd. Planning to minimise risks to the health and safety of students is an integral principle for learning outside the classroom. Risk management is the name given to the identification, assessment and reduction of these risks. Being aware of potential risks helps us to think deeply about what we are planning to do, why we are doing it, and whether we have the skills to lead the activity safely.
Key skills for reducing the level of risk before and during activities include:
Use directive leadership in order to reduce the risks of certain activities. Always make sure any direction is accompanied with a reason so that individuals can learn from the experience. For example, it is appropriate to ask students to:
- Move away from rock pools that are deep and have an unsafe walking area;
- Put on extra clothing if they are cold and exposed to the wind; and/or
- Work together in pairs and not to move away to other areas before checking with a supervisor.
Knowing Your Students:
The better you know your students the more aware you are of their capabilities, individual needs, personalities, reactions to stress, etc. If you are aware of these things you are less likely to put students into situations which are beyond them or where the risk level is too great.
Talking About Potential Risk:
This is a very important technique for reducing risks both before and during activities. It is not sufficient for a teacher to be the only one possessing the knowledge of the route or contingency plans. Good leaders reveal to the participants as much as possible about the planned activity by, for example:
- Telling the group the name of the place they will be going to for the day, and giving them maps of the area.
- Tell students what they should do if they are separated from the party.
- Tell students who is carrying emergency equipment and who has first aid skills.
Teaching By Progression:
This involves teaching particular skills by breaking them down into parts and building upon each one – and then increasing the complexity of the task until an eventual goal is reached. For example, in teaching map reading skills for a visit to a forest, these steps might include:
Step 1 – Indoor sessions with simple maps
Step 2 – Practical sessions in the immediate environment
Step 3 – Indoor sessions with topographical maps
Step 4 – Practical exercises in an open environment with clear boundaries
Step 5 – Practical sessions in the forest environment.
This approach will ensure that students learn the skills they need so that they are less likely, for example, to get lost when participating in field trip experiences.
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