From America to Denmark, Norway and Sweden the film tells the story of two very different childhoods. In America, we see empty playgrounds and children as young as six and seven studying for standardised performance exams. By contrast, in Scandinavia children of the same age are making mud pies, climbing trees and carving with knives.
The film portrays the importance of nature play for child development and the lessons to be learnt from the Scandinavian philosophy of friluftsliv (which translates to ‘free air life’).
Friluftsliv refers to ‘a lifestyle based on experiences of freedom in nature and spiritual connectedness with the landscape’ and is deeply rooted in the identity of Scandinavian people (Gelter, 2000).
At the core of this philosophy is the belief that the ‘reward for connectedness with the landscape is … a new level of consciousness and a spiritual wholeness’ (Gelter, 2000), in other words experience of nature for its own sake is of utmost importance for human physical and mental wellbeing.
NaturePlay beautifully captures the values of friluftsliv in the outdoor-centred learning approach of schools and kindergartens across Scandinavia. One quote from the film that stayed with me was ‘nature doesn’t steal time, it amplifies it’. The natural world inspires creativity and imagination and in pure and diverse environments children find privacy and freedom to explore. In Denmark, the objective of Udeskole (‘outdoor school’) is simple, to spend as much time learning outdoors and from real experience as possible.
The Nordic Outdoor Model of Education (N.O.M.E) promotes learning through the combination of doing and playing. The understanding that ‘play is the work of childhood’ is central. At a Skovbørnehave (forest Kindergarten) in Denmark, children play outside all year round and are exposed to small dangers as part of their daily routine.
Allowing children to work with bonfires, climb trees, use knives and even experience cold weather may seem fool hardy to some, but in this context they are viewed as learning experiences where children can test their physical boundaries within a safe space.
These hands-on life lessons are viewed as tools to help children on their way to independence. In comparison to the more long-term health risks of children spending too much time indoors, such as obesity and even depression, falling out of a tree once in while doesn’t sound too bad. What’s more, according to one outdoor kindergarten teacher the children hardly ever get sick.
By focusing on the needs of the child rather than a test score, nature-based education methods seek to teach life skills like creative problem solving which go beyond conventional schooling.
In the words of one educator, common sense is better than rules. Life does not fit into the pages of a book and narrow channels of learning do not maximise human talent or encourage the flourishing of curiosity and creativity in children.
What’s more, ‘connection to nature is a strong predictor of children’s interest in environmentally friendly practices’ in later life (Cheng and Monroe, 2012). In light of the increasingly fragile state of the world’s ecosystems the need for children who know and understand the inherent value of nature is greater than ever.
NaturePlay beautifully captures the joy of children learning through play and puts forward an irrefutable case for benefits of experiential education and a childhood spent outdoors. You can watch the trailer here and if you’re interested, you can organise a screening of Nature Play for your community. I can highly recommend it!