23 Feb 2017

The outdoors as a classroom

From Nine To Noon, 11:30 am on 23 February 2017
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TimberNook Photo: Timbernook

The children's outdoor programme TimberNook encourages children to have a reciprocal relationship with nature - learning from it (while in it), as well as about it.

Psychologist Kellie Mouat from TimberNook Wellington talks with Kathryn Ryan about the benefits of kids playing freely outdoors.

TimberNook was founded in the US by occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, who noticed her children and a lot of the others in the classroom were fidgeting and having trouble sitting still. Many kids she knew were driven everywhere and had no time in outdoor environments.

Mouat says TimberNook places a high value on allowing kids to play freely without time constraints.

Risk is measured against the potential loss to the child's curiosity and their development.

"We believe in educating a child and allowing them through reasonable risks to learn something from the environment."

Recently some older children on a TimberNook programme created their own village.

"Day one, they were out there with hammers, nails, learning how to tie ropes and building those huts themselves. And part of that is learning how are they going to safety-test that, what are they going to need to look at when they're hammering a nail. Are they leaving sharp pieces pointing out that are likely to injure someone else? The children all follow the principles of looking after themselves, looking after others and looking after nature."

TimberNook differs from other outdoor experience programmes such as Scouts in being child-led and having a curriculum developed by a range of specialists such as occupational therapists, psychologists and physiotherapists - rather than focusing solely on education.

The most important psychological benefit for a child spending time in nature is resilience, Mouat says.

"We're looking at something we can give to our children and develop in our children that is going to guard them against life as it is and life that we can't necessarily predict because things are changing so fast now."

And if they're outside year-round, all the better.

"The children learn by simply going out in the rain - it's okay, they can get wet, they're alright. They feel positivity and achievement in going out and doing that."

New Zealand currently has three TimberNook providers, in Hawke's Bay, Christchurch and Wellington.