A customer wrote to me last week with a story that I want to share. The ending to the story is beautiful but the middle is what I’ll be focusing on in the following. I want to discuss the rules and policies of schools that further disconnect us from nature. Discussion takes more than one voice so please do message me as I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Should stick play be banned in schools? The rise of Nature Deficit Disorder
A customer wrote to me last week. She had purchased a set of Nature Play Prompts from my store. The daughter and her had really enjoyed the Stick activity which involved wrapping wool around sticks and making mobiles using feathers, beads and other materials. The daughter had enjoyed it so much that her mother had sent a ball of wool to school with her so that she could continue in her lunch break. The daughter sat quietly and resumed wrapping wool around her stick during her break until a teacher confiscated the sticks and explained that sticks were not to be played with. The daughter went home very upset, she was on the autism spectrum so grasping the difference in her mother’s blessings and the teachers dissatisfaction was hard for her to comprehend.
School policies are highly concerned with children’s safety, can you blame them? In a recent survey more than 60 percent of school principals said they had been threatened with a legal challenge whilst on the job (Hopkins, 2006). It’s no surprise that most schools and early childhood settings have the rule that children are not permitted to interact with or enter gardens including rocks or sticks.
You will hear the horror stories of children that have been injured by sticks. However I’ve also heard horror stories of children hurt by pencils and chairs, so should we ban them? In fact most injuries that occur with nature’s items have occurred in settings where interactions with nature are banned. Adversely, the settings that embrace respectful, open and righteous play with sticks and rocks report very little incidents. We need to be asking ourselves ‘what is lost when we diminish children’s access to nature play? Are we inadvertently setting them up for failure?
Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) is a term widespread by Richard Louv from his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ (2005). NDD describes that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.
So what needs to change? Do school policies need to loosen up and better advocate for our children’s well-being? Do parents need to toughen up and except that scratches and broken bones can be a healthy part of childhood? Or do children need to accept that playing with sticks and rocks is a childhood memory of their parents past?
I promised a positive ending to the story and I’m pleased to say that this mother was her child’s best advocate. She stood up for her daughters rights and the school has since held a staff meeting and discussed policy changes. The mother sent a bag of wool to school and just yesterday the teachers reported that the daughter and 11 other girls sat in the gardens making stick mobiles. This school has since received a complimentary package with Nature Play Prompts. They have huge plans to create a yarning circle and the possibility of a sensory garden is being discussed. Social change doesn’t come about if we don’t speak up!