Screens!!!! They are everywhere. Chromebooks, TVs, phones, monitors, laptops & tablets are currently teachers, entertainers, and communicators with which our children are entangled. The necessity of these devices in our children's lives is incontrovertible. Kids are currently being taught via conference calls and digital books. They practice learned skills in apps and online games and many of them love it. It is a great time to be a student in some respects because many digital curriculum designers are providing opportunities for students to learn through a variety of styles and at their own pace. These are all good things. But, (isn't there always a but?) children are showing less interest in personal interaction with their peers, less imaginative creation and less ability to participate tactile play. At eSTEAM, we see this as a potential stumbling block for our students and decided to do something about it.
We know partnering with organizations specializing in specific areas of interest is a great way to get kids positively engaged with any subject. The North Carolina Wildlife Federation has a program called Great Outdoors University (GOU) that encourages kids to get outside and connect with nature. Ms. Mary and the team of ladies who work with GOU use field trips to local parks with good natural areas and trails to teach youth about plants, animals, and how we impact and should interact with all of nature. One big rule that is established for these outings is simple and very impactful: NO PHONES. Initially, the kids resisted this idea with irritation and even a little panic, but after the first couple of trips, they were more willing to give up their phones.
With GOU, we visit a new park each week. We participate in an activity related to the week's theme and go for an easy walk on a nature trail in the park. As we walk, the GOU leaders help guide the kids to "see" nature with more than just their eyes. This engagement helps them to be mindful, curious and observant of the world around them. We are seeing the students start to enjoy the conversations they have with their peers and leaders on these walks. They aren't worried about taking selfies, responding to the ding or buzz of a notification or texting people who aren't on site. They are interacting with those who are present and it is helping them build positive peer relationships.
They look for things to question as they saunter along a path. They take time to breathe in the fresh air as they build shared experiences with each other. They pause to look at the water flowing under a bridge or try to figure out what kind of animal is rustling the leaves in a thicket with eyes bright and ears alert. The kids point out paw prints along the creek bank, bark patterns, mysterious holes in trees, berries, bugs and funny looking leaves. We listen as they talk about anything and everything important to them in these peaceful moments. Without the distraction of an electronic device, they are focused on their thoughts and not what someone else might think of them. They are able to relax and be silly without worrying that their actions will end up on social media. All in all, they can just be kids.
As we continue to adjust to a new normal with a world full of electronics fully intwined with our daily routines, remember that the world outside of the rooms in which we sit is still very much available for exploration. Even if it's just in your backyard or at a city park, there is a beautiful connection you and your children can make with nature. So find some time to leave the screens in the house or power them off and take a walk on the greenway or hike a local trail. Pack a snack, grab a water bottle and go on a screenless adventure!