According to blogger Hansi Johnson, it used to mean someone who likes going outdoors. But now, Hansi argues, the outdoors have become elitist to the point of making it seem inaccessible to most.
I’ve observed how the outdoor industry and the media have portrayed getting outside for nearly my entire life, and what used to be a very “volkssport,” inclusive, hippy-like identity has transformed into a super-elitist and entitled one. The destinations presented in the media are generally so unattainable by most people that they might as well be on the moon–and don’t even bother going if you’re not wearing expensive, high-tech apparel and using modern, high-priced gear.
Why does this matter? Because the majority of people in both the developed and developing world already feel like they don’t have time, energy, or resources to “go outside” and get exposure to nature, whether that’s to hike, bike, or just have a picnic. Creating this illusion of exclusivity is bad for everyone. Feeling like you don’t belong – of all places – in NATURE is frankly inhumane. Research has demonstrated over and over how our bodies and brains NEED nature and natural environments.
Get outside, hug a tree, pick a flower, fall into some snow, stomp in puddles.
For the typical American kindergartner, unstructured free play during the school day consists of 20 to 30 minutes of recess, and perhaps some time at indoor “stations” — perhaps creating with building blocks, costumes, or musical instruments. But what if there was more? What if the answer to “what did you do in school today?” was, “I climbed a tree, played in the mud, built a fire”?
That is exactly the kind of learning going on in the Swiss Waldkindergartens, or forest kindergartens, where children ages four to seven spend all of their school days playing outdoors, no matter the weather. With no explicit math or literacy taught until first grade, the Swiss have no set goals for kindergartners beyond a few measurements, like using scissors and writing one’s own name. They instead have chosen to focus on the social interaction and emotional well-being found in free play.
With many parents and educators overwhelmed by the amount of academics required for kindergartners — and the testing requirements at that age — it’s no surprise that the forest kindergarten, and the passion for bringing more free play to young children during the school day, is catching on stateside. Free play and inquiry learning are the cornerstone of Canada’s new all-day kindergarten program; forest kindergartens are popping up in Washington state, Vermont, and even Brooklyn.
At the Waldkindergarten, which takes place in the middle of the woods in Langnau am Albis, Switzerland, dotted with several handmade structures like a rudimentary wood shelter where children and teachers gather around the fire, children play, often away from teachers’ view.
These scenes are captured in “School’s Out: Lessons From a Forest Kindergarten,” a documentary directed by Lisa Molomot. In the 36-minute film, Molomot and producer Rona Richter show scenes from two public schools: the outdoor forest kindergarten in Switzerland and a more typical American kindergarten in New Haven, Connecticut.
Nice to see toys being introduced that work with already existing toys (sticks!), and encourages kids to go find their own sticks and go play in nature.
As an inductee to the National Toy Hall of Fame, the stick doesn’t need much improving as a classic toy. For as long as there have been children and sticks, sticks have served as a versatile toy in outdoor play. But connecting sticks takes a bit of ingenuity.
Enter Christina Kazakia, a design student with a mission. As she explains, “I designed these flexible silicone connectors as part of my graduate thesis in Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. My goal was to create prompts to engage children with their surrounding natural environment.” Called Stick-lets™, these connectors help small children build big structures like forts, teepees, lean-tos, or other creations.
Happy Friday. I got to start off my work day sitting on my back patio drinking coffee. Here’s why more people should do the same.
Do you feel stifled by the four walls of your office or cubicle?
There’s a reason for that.
Trapping ourselves indoors has created what health experts call a “nature deficit disorder” — depression or anxiety resulting from too little time spend outside. Getting outdoors can do great things for your health. Reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and improving immune function are among nature’s health benefits. What’s more, incorporating elements of nature into your workday can also give your brain a boost, resulting in increased productivity, focus and creativity.
Harvard physician Eva M. Selhub, co-author of Your Brain on Nature, says a drop of nature is like a drop of morphine to the brain, since it “stimulates reward neurons in your brain. It turns off the stress response which means you have lower cortisol levels, lower heart rate and blood pressure and improved immune response.”
Turning off the sensors that are involved in the stress response allows the higher brain centers to be accessed, resulting in increased concentration, improved memory, greater creativity and productivity and reduced mental fatigue. While Selhub says spending 20 minutes a day outdoors is recommended, studies have shown even looking at photographs of nature can deliver some of the same cognitive benefits as physically being outdoors. A 2008 study at the University of Michigan showed students who looked at photos of nature performed better on tests of attention and working memory than those who looked at photographs of urban scenes.
The term “tree hugger” has been applied to people viewed as uber-liberal or too idealistic, however… “it has been recently scientifically validated that hugging trees is actually good for you.”
Research has shown that you don’t even have to touch a tree to get better, you just need to be within its vicinity has a beneficial effect.
In a recently published book, Blinded by Science, the author Matthew Silverstone, proves scientifically that trees do in fact improve many health issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), concentration levels, reaction times, depression and other forms of mental illness. He even points to research indicating a tree’s ability to alleviate headaches in humans seeking relief by communing with trees.
The author points to a number of studies that have shown that children show significant psychological and physiological improvement in terms of their health and well being when they interact with plants and trees. Specifically, the research indicates that children function better cognitively and emotionally in green environments and have more creative play in green areas. Also, he quotes a major public health report that investigated the association between green spaces and mental health concluded that “access to nature can significantly contribute to our mental capital and wellbeing”.
I”m sorry the article only looked at research in children, as more and more findings are showing the same improvements in adults from interacting and playing with nature, and even results that some would term “nature deprivation” or as Richard Louv calls it “Nature Deficit Disorder.”
One of my favorite little trivia facts is that there are microbes in soil that induce positive emotions in people, so digging in the dirt actually makes you happier. Plus helps you learn and concentrate more.
Hospital patients with a view of a tree or greenery from their room window were found to heal faster.
Those kinds of benefits are for everybody!
While I do feel like it’s important to make sure children get enough outdoor time, I continually want to drive home the message that not only should you encourage children to go outside and play, but adults too. We ALL need fresh air and nature and flowers and bugs and dirt.
This is a great idea! So many people have told me how they hate being inside the office all day, especially on nice summer days like this. We NEED exposure to the outdoors and nature in order to stay productive, mentally healthy, and physically fit. Just a 20-minute walk in the woods can have the same productivity benefits as an hour-long nap.
What’s your dream office? If you fantasize about bouldering on your lunch break–and appreciate being in a zero-waste, net zero-energy environment–you might want to take a look at the soon-to-be-completed space in the slideshow above: the new Alameda, Calif. headquarters of VF Corporation‘s outdoor and action sports coalition brands, which include The North Face, Lucy, and Jansport.
Now that VF’s outdoor brands are on good financial footing (especially The North Face), the corporation is working on a headquarters–set to be completed this summer–that was built with employee wish lists in mind. It shows.Below, some of the amenities available at the new 160,000-square-foot complex (many of them suggested by an employee task force).
A large onsite garden that will grow things like kale, tomatoes, and basil. VF expects to grow so much that employees won’t even be able to consume all of it. Leftover will be donated to a local food bank. Employees will be encouraged to help out with the garden, but local volunteers will also pitch in. A side note: Originally, VF toyed with the idea of installing a volleyball court, but employees elected to grow a garden instead.
Lots of natural light. 90% of employees will have access to direct sunlight, and in many areas of the complex, the overhead lights can often be kept off. Bonus: All the windows in the complex open (this should be a given, but it isn’t always).
Opportunities for onsite fitness, including an indoor fitness area and yoga room, an outside training area for bootcamp, an outside bouldering space, and an outdoor gear rental and repair shop.
A cafe serving the vegetables grown in the garden, among other things.
Eventually, if employees are really lucky, the ability to kayak out into the water just outside the complex (VF would need to make sure this is feasible and legal first, but employees have been asking for it).
A convenient location for almost everyone. When VF first started thinking about the new complex, it “took employee addresses and mapped out where they were” to figure out an ideal spot, according to Steve Rendle, group president of VF’s Outdoor & Action Sports Americas.
The office space is inside out: executive offices are in the middle of the room, and other employees sit by the windows.
VF is far from the only corporation to have an environmentally and outdoors-friendly campus. New Belgium Brewing Company, for example, buys clean energy, powers itself partially with methane from an on-site water treatment plant–and it offers perks like free bicycles and volleyball.
But the idea of a company keeping employees active, innovating, and considering the environment shouldn’t be a novel one. We hope, in other words, that this becomes a trend well outside the outdoor apparel industry.
The only thing I’m bummed about is that they didn’t use one of the hangars on the old Alameda Air Base, that closed down just over 12 years ago and hasn’t had much development done with it since. It would have been very “green” to recycle those old structures, but I also understand the price and space limitations. Still, very exciting overall, and I hope this trend continues with new office buildings.
Simple: I saw some inspirational work, and had some immensely rewarding conversations.
We took a meandering and surprisingly green route across most of the NDC area to Radnor Street Gardens.
This is one of London’s best examples of a ‘playable space’ – in other
words, a space where offering opportunities for play is only one of the
jobs that has to be done. My work for the GLA
[pdf link] helped to embed this idea in London’s planning system. In my
view, it is fundamental to the success of public play facilities in
almost any urban area.
What struck me was how the programme combined park, amenity space and
play projects, along with streetscape and highways initiatives, so that
the whole far exceeded the sum of its parts. The ingredients we saw
included [*deep breath*]: new play spaces and toilet blocks in parks and
estates, new public squares from reclaimed street space and car parks, ‘home zone’-style
shared road surfaces, landscaped road closures, greening up an adventure playground, estate-based allotment projects, cycle lanes,
shared use ball game areas, pushchair-friendly pavements, even (on one
estate) new refuse bin sheds with green roofs. Her approach to
engagement was revealing. Local people were closely involved at all
levels, right up to the NDC board. However, they were seen not simply as
‘stakeholders’ or ‘consumers’, but as people who needed to be inspired,
debated with, and (hopefully) won over.
From the blog How Do you Landscape; a group from the UK has created an app that can be used to measure our happiness based on our surroundings, and using maps to look at the data:
“People feel better outside than inside”. “People feel better in the park/woods/nature than in the city”. These are some of the conclusions from a project with the telling title ‘Mappiness’ Good news for landscape and Landscape Architecture on first sight. But are these only one-liners or firmly based scientific statements? Well, that depends on the quality of the empirical evidence of course. Most experience sample methods (ESM) have a hard time getting a representative group (in the end almost only colleagues) that has to struggle trough tedious interview forms (“it will take only twenty minutes”) to step-by-step end up with modest results. How about a sample group of 47.331 people (and growing by the day) who willingly support their data three times a day to the researchers that by now collected over three million forms in a few months? I stumbled upon these remarkable Experience research feats in a TedxBrighton 2011. In this “Twenty minutes lecture” George MacKerron explains why and how he and Susana Mourato (both from the Department of Geography & Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science) created ‘mappiness’. They want to better understand how people’s feelings are affected by features of their current environment. Things like air pollution, noise, and green spaces influence your well being is their hypothesis.
This is how it works. They developed an app that can be downloaded for free. It must be one of the most irritating apps around on the web because it rings you (with your approval, you can influence the settings) three times a day to ask you three simple questions.
When put through a big regression model they can gauge the happiness as the function of habitat type, activity, companionship, weather conditions (there is of course a link between meteorological data and the GPS data), daylight conditions, location type (in, out, home, work, etc), ambient noise level, time of the day, response speed, and individual ‘fixed-effects’ (that come out of your personal Mappiness-history). Factors can be plotted out against each other.
How awesome is that? What a neat piece of technology to measure our surroundings and how they influence us!