Ideally, every parent or guardian would be thrilled to have their child spend time in the great outdoors. Most parents do strongly support outdoor education and connection to nature, but it’s possible you will encounter a few resistant folks who need more persuading than others. Here’s how to convince the holdouts to get on board.
#1: Invite them to join you
Some things just have to be seen to be believed. I have yet to meet a parent who has watched their child run, climb, laugh, build, and create in nature and then said, “This is a bad idea, you should stop doing this.”
The parents themselves may have fears, discomforts, or negative associations with nature/hiking/camping/dirt, so giving them a new set of positive experiences to associate with the great outdoors can go a long way towards changing their perceptions and beliefs.
#2: Share pictures and videos
Even if parents can’t make it to the actual forest with you, you can make them feel like they are there by sharing images and videos from the day. The smiles on the kid’s faces will tell them everything they need to know, and seeing what actually goes on during a forest school lesson will help assuage any concerns they might have about what they assume is happening. A simple Google Photos account shared with all the families will get the job done, or, if you’re feeling extra fancy, you could send out e-mail blasts or publish blog posts.
#3: Show them you have a plan
If parents see that your time in nature is purposeful and thoughtful, they’re more likely to see it as a “valuable” use of school time. If you’re using a lesson plan or following some sort of scope and sequence, consider sharing these documents with parents so they get another glimpse into your thought process and see the tremendously rich and robust learning that is happening in the forest.
Don’t have a plan yet? I can help.
#4: Integrate traditional academics into your outdoor time
A common misconception is that nature time is a completely separate entity from “academic time,” and the two are mutually exclusive. I am hear to tell you that this is most definitely not the case! Nature time is academic time. When children play outdoors they are applying and synthesizing the facts and skills they learn in the classroom during studies of traditional subjects like math, reading, and social studies. Nature play is a time for children to experiment with this newly acquired information and to expand and build upon it so their understanding becomes richer and deeper than it ever could by just sitting at a desk.
If this argument is not compelling enough, though, you can always get more explicit and teach a math lesson or writing lesson outdoors. Juliet Robertson of Creative Star Learning in the UK has some excellent books about teaching outdoors, including Messy Maths and Dirty Teaching.
#5: Share the research
If all other attempts to appeal to parents’ hearts and minds have failed, try presenting them with some cold, hard facts. It’s hard to argue with peer-reviewed research and scientific studies concluding that children who spend time in nature are happier, more confident, more resilient, and more caring, kind, and compassionate young people.
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