Monday, May 5, 2014


"An alarming statistic: only 6% of children ages 9-13 spend time playing outdoors aside from school. Calling it “Nature Deficit Disorder”, Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods, 2005), states that the deficit of time spent outdoors is resulting in a wide range of behavioral as well as spiritual problems in today’s children. Dr. Montessori knew this a century ago when she stated “How often is the soul of man - especially in childhood - deprived because he is not allowed to come in contact with nature?”

There seem to be two pronounced reasons for this nature deprivation. Firstly, we live in a world of fear; fear of strangers, fear of abductions, fear of terror. Louv argues that sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally "scared children straight out of the woods and fields," while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors "safe" regimented sports over imaginative play”.

"It should be clear that normal and strong children should not only be able to resist an exposure to nature, but that they would be greatly benefited from it. But there are still too many prejudices in the way. We have readily given up our own freedom and have ended up loving our prison and passing it on to our own children. Little by little we have come to look upon nature as being restricted to the growing of flowers or to the care of domestic animals which provide us with food, assist us in our labours, or help in our defense. This has caused our souls to shrink and has filled them with contradictions. We can even confuse the pleasure that we have in seeing animals with that of being near a poor animal destined to die so that it may feed us, or we admire the beauty of the songs of little birds imprisoned in tiny cages with a kind of hazy love of nature. We even think that a tray full of sand from the sea should be a great help to a child. Imprisoned as we are in such a confused world, it is no wonder that we come to some absurd conclusions.

Actually, nature frightens most people. They fear the air and the sun as if they were mortal enemies. They fear the frost at night as if it were a snake hidden in the grass. They fear the rain as if it were a fire. Civilized man is a kind of contented prisoner, and if now he is warned that he should enjoy nature for his own health, he does so timidly and with his eyes on the alert for any danger. To sleep in the open, to expose oneself to the winds and to the rains, to defy the sun, and to take a dip in the water are all things about which one can talk but which one does not always put into practice.

It would be too soon for us to say: Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between waking and sleeping. But, instead of this, we anxiously ask ourselves how we can make a child sleep after the sun has risen, and how we can teach him not to take off his shoes or wander over the meadows. Where, as a result of such restraints, a child degenerates and becoming irked with his prison, kills small insects or even harmless animals, we look on this as something natural and do not notice that his soul has already become estranged from nature. We simply ask our children to adapt themselves to their prison without causing us any trouble.
But when children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength. I once knew a couple who has a child barely two years old. Wishing to do to a distant beach, they tried to take turns carrying him in their arms, but their attempt was too tiring. The child, however, then enthusiastically made the trip himself and repeated the excursion every day. Instead of carrying him in their arms, his parents made the sacrifice of walking more slowly and of halting whenever the child stopped to gather a small flower or saw a patient little donkey grazing in a meadow and sat down, thoughtful and serious, to pass a moment with this humble and privileged creature. Instead of carrying their child, these parents solved the problem by following him. Only poets and little children can feel the fascination of a tiny rivulet of water flowing over pebbles. A child at such a sight will laugh with absolute joy and want to stop to touch it with his hands as if to caress it.

I would suggest that you take up in your arms a child that has not yet begun to walk. On a country road from which may be seen a great and beautiful expanse, hold him in such a way that his back is to the view. Stop there with him! He will turn around and enjoy the beauty of the scene even though he cannot yet stand upright on his own two feet and his tongue cannot as yet ask you to pause." -Maria Montessori; The Discovery of A Child (Nature in Education Chapter 4)

Flashback to 2012: Shayne and I, at a hike @ Bukit Timah Hill :)

/ps: I recently added another Montessori article on Abolishing Rewards and Punishments. You can read it here.

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