For many decades, I was blessed with the opportunity to take large groups of “city” fifth graders on a 3-day camping experience in central Wisconsin. Some of my favorite kid comments included, “I never knew there were so many trees, (or stars), (or bugs), (or birds)…” and “Wow! Look at all those different kinds of dirt...” and, more recently, “I don’t even miss my tablet/cell phone/TV…”
At camp, I was able to experience first-hand the myriad of gifts and talents in children that we don’t always get to see in a classroom -- for example, I noted who could efficiently bait a hook and effortlessly teach others, who could problem-solve and lead in a ropes challenge, who had outdoor knowledge/experience, who could comfort another homesick student late at night, who could learn new and difficult skills without getting frustrated early on, or who could sit silently and simply wonder at the beauty of nature.
Most of all, however, I got to watch the great outdoors consistently work its tremendous and inexplicable magic on children.
As spring and summer unfold here in Wisconsin, it was with great delight that I came across this article in The London Economic, Outdoor Learning Really Does Boost Children's Academic Performance and Development, which furnished some research that supports my intuition about the huge benefits of outdoor education.
According to lead author Professor Ming Kuo of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at Illinois University, “It’s time to take nature seriously as a resource for learning.” After examining data from literally hundreds of studies, Prof Kuo’s team found that being in nature boosts learning in eight distinct ways. “We found strong evidence time and time again that nature has a rejuvenating effect on attention; it relieves stress, boosts self-discipline, increases physical activity and fitness, and promotes student self-motivation, enjoyment, and engagement. All of these have been shown to improve learning,” Professor Kuo reported.
Furthermore, Kuo continued, “Until recently, claims outstripped evidence on this question. But the field has matured, not only substantiating previously unwarranted claims, but deepening our understanding of the cause-and-effect relationship between nature and learning. Hundreds of studies now bear on this question, and converging evidence strongly suggests that experiences of nature boost academic learning, personal development, and environmental stewardship. Similarly, over fifty studies point to nature playing a key role in the development of pro-environmental behaviour, particularly by fostering an emotional connection to nature. In academic contexts, nature-based instruction outperforms traditional instruction...the evidence here is particularly strong – from experiments evidence to standardised test scores and graduation rates.”
The research indicated that even small doses of nature can produce gains in academic success and personal development, and suggested that school grounds have more green spaces with lawns, shrubs, and trees, community gardens, and outdoor learning areas, which can all have an impact on students and their academic success.
Co-author of the article, Prof Catherine Jordan of Minnesota University, wrote, “Report after report – from independent observers as well as participants themselves – indicate beneficial shifts in perseverance, problem solving, critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, and resilience. All of these line up with skills we know are important for kids’ ability to thrive in the 21st century.”
Finally, Prof Kuo concluded, “Even small exposures to nature are beneficial. If you’re indoors, having a view of your yard as opposed to facing the wall, that makes a difference. At the same time, more is better. That’s one of the things that gives us more confidence that we’re seeing a real cause-and-effect relationship. The bigger the dose of nature we give a person, the bigger the effect we see in them.”
With all of the wonderfully supportive research in mind, it’s time to get outdoors! Arm yourselves with some great nature guides, slather on some sunscreen, and douse yourself with bug spray. Grab your water bottles, and embark on some great nature adventures with your friends and family.
And take a moment to think to yourself, “What a wonderful world!” 🎶🎶🎶
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President, WATG
I have always been a lover of board games. As a kid, we often had marathons of Clue, Sorry, Monopoly, chess, checkers, and countless other games going on in our basement - often for days or weeks on end. Our game area (a corner of an unfinished basement) was a kids’ world - a place where we learned to play fearlessly, to win humbly, and to lose graciously. It was a place where we measured our wits against our sibs and neighbors and friends - always, it seemed, with a critical assessment of our own skill, and an awareness that our skill was often tempered or assisted by pure luck. As a result, we learned a lot about our skill and talent sets.
Games taught us to take risks; they taught us to be daring and do unreasonable, unpredictable stuff because “it’s only a game.” In this way, games taught us to sacrifice our need for perfection, and to explore the “what ifs” of life. We learned that failure is part of life, and that life goes on (even if we think it won’t).
Games taught us persistence; if the game was long and borrrrring, or if we weren’t winning, or if someone was being a pain, we learned to persevere, or to remedy the situation creatively (and usually compassionately…). Adults were not part of the scene, so we kids learned to compromise, collaborate, and correct behaviors in ourselves and others without adult interference.
Games also introduced us to the concept of “flow,” a term coined by psychologist Dr. Mihaly Czikszentmihaly, Flow is a state of being in which one becomes so joyously absorbed in an activity that one loses all sense of time. Rainy days spent in the game area were often days spent in blissful flow, so much that we sometimes forgot to eat lunch, or were amazed that the day had flown by. We learned that flow felt great, and learned to watch for other serendipitous incidents of flow in our unfolding lives. For some of us, flow bubbled up in the creative arts; for others, flow surfaced in sports, for others, flow accompanied long periods of writing, or other joyous activities. Flow is an amazing gift in life, and games can be a wonderful introduction to its beauty.
Surreptitiously, I think, games taught us the thrill of challenge, and the boredom of “too easy.” To avoid boredom, we often made up our own rules, upped the ante, added our own creative touches, and imposed a myriad of homegrown, and sometimes unfathomable, rules. These practices enhanced our critical and creative thinking, and taught us what to do with boredom.
Finally, games taught us decision-making and problem solving skills. Without being formally taught, we were hypothesizing, investigating, observing, and drawing conclusions. We learned how to “go back to the drawing board,” and to rectify mistakes that we’d made to improve our performance. And the best part of all was that it didn’t cost us anything but, perhaps, our pride.
So many of the skills that are taught by playing board games are skills that all kids need, and are skills that gifted kids especially need to counter-balance some of the social and emotional needs that they encounter.
With all of these benefits of gaming in mind, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a great list of board games for kids and their families. Here it is: 100 Games for Gifted Kids by Renee at greatpeace.com. I have played many of the games on this list, and perhaps you have too. I love the way this list is organized; perhaps it will help you find the best games for your child and your family.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think