I recently had the privilege of viewing the film NaturePlay – Take Childhood Back which was created by Daniel and Aimie Stilling with the goal of inspiring a cultural and educational shift in the U.S. and around the world in regards to the values placed on childhood and the importance of whole-child education.
The film begins with captivating images of children playing outside – free and happy, exploring and connecting with nature – underscored by Richard Louv reading a passage from his book, Last Child in the Woods. We are then presented with the serious issue that this film addresses: The increase in high-stakes testing in our schools and the loss of unstructured play time outside (in and out of school) are negatively impacting our children. Childhood is being taken away, our children are suffering, and the consequences are long-lasting.
The film then offers a source of hope and remedy as it leads us on a journey to Denmark where we learn about the Udeskole model of education and the cultural attitude of Friluftsliv and then to Norway where they share these same values.
Udeskole is defined as a method that “…gives the pupils the opportunity to use their bodies and senses in learning activities in the real world in order to obtain personal and concrete experiences. Uteskole allows room for academic activities, communication, social interaction, experience, spontaneity, play, curiosity and fantasy”. (source) In other words, Udeskole takes learning out to nature and relevant community settings for meaningful, hands-on experiences that can be applied to the classroom lessons across all academic subjects.
The Udeskole pedagogy is implemented in all grades from kindergarten through high school and the impacts are inspiring. Learning experiences are not standardized as they tend to be here in the U.S. This pedagogy makes it possible for children to take away their own lessons, develop their own unique skills, broaden their own perspective of the world. The experiences go from hand to mind to heart, empowering all children to unlock their full potential.
This model of education and the governmental policies that support it would not be successful if it weren’t for the cultural value of Friluftsliv – “free air life”. In Nordic and Scandinavian cultures, direct experience in nature is a part of everyday life. Children spend extended periods of time immersed in nature. They experience life outside in all kinds of weather. They are allowed to take risks – climbing trees and boulders, learning how to use knives and make fires, using construction materials and tools to build forts and rafts. It is understood and accepted that children need time away from adult monitoring and influence. Even the public parks and adventure playgrounds are designed to support and encourage these philosophies.
It is believed that children have an innate sense of belonging in nature and that it is crucial to maintain that connection for a high quality of life. It is believed that children and nature and education belong together and that working to make it so is an investment in the health of society.
After highlighting many positive and encouraging examples of “Udeskole” successes, the film brings us back around to the struggles we face and the price our children are paying. We are raising a generation of disconnected humans – disconnected from each other, disconnected from nature, disconnected from life. We have created false constructs of achievement and what is important in life. We have lost touch with the fact that life-long personal success, health, and overall well-being are rooted in childhood. This film challenges us to take an honest look at our current mindsets and to take up the challenge of doing better for our children. After all, “What parent wants their kids to be less alive? What teacher wants their students to be less alive? Who among us as adults wants to be less alive?” The solution lies in a more nature-rich existence.
Gain more insight to the film with these wonderful reviews and by watching the official trailer:
So, who should see this film?
- Parents who want to enrich their children’s lives;
- Educators who want to unlock their students full potential;
- Community leaders who want to promote a creative, independent, empowered generation;
- Organizations who want to spark a love of outdoors in children and nurture future stewards of the environment;
- Anyone who wants to improve the lives of our children and the future of us all.
Who could you approach about hosting a viewing?
- School board of directors, administrators, teachers, and parent groups;
- Local nature clubs and environmental centers;
- Public libraries;
- Parents and family members.
Make a passionate plea to get this film shown in your community. Whether you write a letter or arrange a personal meeting, make an undeniable case by sharing research findings, giving anecdotal examples of experiential learning and the impacts of unstructured time in nature, and asking your audience to recall their own experiences.
All the information for hosting a screening can be found here. Together we can help take back childhood.
P.S. I asked Aimie a few follow-up questions after viewing the full film. I’ll share our conversation and some related resources in an upcoming post.