Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 25, No. 3, 1998Environmental Education"Happy Play in Grassy Places": The Importanc...
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Play in Grassy Places                                                                                                     ...
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1 outdoor environment in dewey's educational ideal

  1. 1. Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 25, No. 3, 1998Environmental Education"Happy Play in Grassy Places": The Importance of theOutdoor Environment in Deweys Educational IdealMary Rivkin, Department EditorINTRODUCTION that the industrial revolution had changed childrens lives forever, taking from them the opportunity within their Experience is central to Deweys educational phi- neighborhood communities to genuinely contribute tolosophy, and to environmental educators, outdoor experi- the production of communal necessities—food, clothing,ences are key. What does Dewey say about outdoor expe- fuel, light, housewares, and building materials. Heriences? Reading The School and Society (1990), The regretted this reality, noting that this participation inChild and the Curriculum (1990), and Experience and needed production had provided discipline to and builtEducation (1938) reveals that Dewey considered the out- character in children (Dewey, 1990, pp. 10-11), and thatdoors as a given and valued it immensely. In the follow- a spirit of community developed and was sustained auto-ing I lay out key passages from Deweys writings and matically in these circumstances. Such communities,relate them to contemporary conditions. while not designed for or by children, provided a rich "Happy play in grassy places" comes from a poem matrix for their existence.by Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1885, only 15years before Deweys School and Society. The verse Substantive Education Occurs Outdoorsreads: Happy hearts and happy faces, Furthermore, in preindustrial conditions knowledge Happy play in grassy places, of real things was well-developed. Schools have a hard That was how in ancient ages time replacing these experiences of pre-factory life: Children grew to kings and sages. No amount of object lessons, got up...for the sake of giv- Although far too sunny a view of history — ignor- ing information, can afford even the shadow of a sub-ing primogeniture, divine right, and bloody battles — stance for acquaintance with the plants and animals ofthese lines nonetheless express both a sense of change in the farm and garden acquired through actual living among them and caring for them. (Dewey, 1990, p.l 1)childrens lives and an acknowledgment of the impor-tance of the outdoors to childrens development. Other A further misfortune was that not only had thepoems by Stevenson reiterate this importance and limn industrial revolution deprived children of developmentalthe joys of flowery meadows, climbable trees, and sandy opportunities but had also created factory-like schoolsstreams. where childrens individual development was sharply restricted. It is "out of school, in the home, the family, on the playground, and the neighborhood" where childrenCHILDRENS LIVES CHANGED BY are "intensely distinctive beings" (Dewey, 1990, p. 33).INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION Deweys early writings about childrens education, THE NEXT REVOLUTION—INSchool and Society and Child and the Curriculum, did EDUCATION?not dwell on the joys but did assert the importance of the Dewey held out hope, however, that another revolu-immediate environment—both indoor and outdoor—for tion would occur, this time in education:children. He also observed that childrens relationship tothe environment had altered drastically. Dewey noted Now the change which is coming into our education is 199 1082-330l/98/0300-0199$15.00/0 O 1998 Human Sciences Press, Inc.
  2. 2. 200 Rivkin the shifting of the center of gravity...not unlike that to explore synthetic fabrics as well as he arranged for introduced by Copernicus..the child becomes the sun their study of cotton and wool by providing raw materi- about which the appliances of education revolve. (Dewey, 1990, p. 34) als and simple tools? Other more serious concerns dim Deweys vision.Homes would be the model for this new education. The In School and Society, Dewey seems to take for"ideal home" would be focused on the childs needs. granted the existence for children of gardens, fields, andThere the child learns in several ways—through the fam- forests. But by 1938, in Experience and Education, theilys social converse, by participating in household tasks, natural world seems to have receded in importance,and by working in his own little workshop and laborato- although Dewey argues strongly for freedom of physicalry. Furthermore and notably, activity (pp. 61-65) which perhaps implies outdoor The life of the child would extend out of doors to the space. Today however, educators cannot take the natural garden, surrounding fields and forests. He would have environment as a given, for numerous reasons. his excursions, his walks and talks, in which the larger world out of doors would be open to him. (Dewey, 1990, p. 35) THE VANISHING NATURAL ENVIRONMENT Notice Deweys expansive concept of the out-of-doors—gardens, fields, and forests. Naturally these ideal Cars and their roads have eliminated safe outdoorhomes seldom exist, but well-designed schools can pro- play for many children. Cars are so dangerous to childrenvide these things. that many children dont walk to school in the industrial- For instance, to focus on outdoor play, let us exam- ized countries.ine the outdoor aspect of Deweys school. Crime, fear of crime, widespread pollution, and lack of neighborhood communities have further decreased The school building has about it a natural environment. childrens access to the outdoors. Longer hours required It ought to be in a garden, and the children from the gar- den would be led on to surrounding fields, and then into by schools, and a plethora of scheduled activities (sports, the wider country, with all its facts and forces. (Dewey, lessons, childcare) also keep children away from outdoor 1990, p.75) life. Add air conditioning, television, computers, and electronic games to the list. Finally, there is less land forGood schooling for Dewey was dependent on the out- children to play on, given the sprawl of population.door world, because that is where life occurs. Dewey thought that ordinary schools were too arti- Outdoor Environments at Schoolficial and isolated from the real world. He wrote aboutthe schoolchildren of an Illinois river town studying the Today, it is even more urgent that the school recre-Mississippi without realizing that it was the phenomenon ate Deweys "ideal home" because for so many childrenflowing just beyond their doorways. He observed that, that home does not and cannot exist, particularly in All studies arise from aspects of the one earth and the regard to outdoor space. Even when schools have out- one life lived upon it. We do not have a series of strati- door space it is usually an expanse of asphalt and/or fied earths...mathematical...physical...historical, and grass, which is neither safe nor educative. The kind of so on. We live in a world where all sides are bound activity that occurs there does not automatically induce together...one great common world. When the child community nor even particularly good play. lives in varied but concrete and active relationship to this common world, his studies are naturally unified.... The time is ripe to rejuvenate outdoor places for Relate the school to life and all studies are of necessity children. School rooms are brighter, livelier looking correlated. (Dewey, 1990, p. 91) places than previously; school yards ought to become our next focus.Very much of life occurs outdoors. IMPROVING CONDITIONS FORDeweys Unrealized Hope OUTDOOR PLAY In the years following A Childs Garden of Verses In my study of conditions for childrens outdoorand School and Society, the relationship between chil- play (Rivkin, 1995), I found the following four things todren and the environment has continued to change. be encouraging. First, there are numerous schoolgroundAlong lines described by Dewey, the means of produc- improvement organizations (Rivkin, 1997). Nationaltion have become more centralized and thus divorced groups include Learning Through Landscapes that hasfrom daily life. How would Dewey arrange for children improved playgrounds in more than a third of Great
  3. 3. Play in Grassy Places 201Britains elementary schools, adding features such as Ahrens, 1984-85). Since the 1920s, New York City hasponds, orchards, meadows, nature trails, birdfeeders, and had "play streets," streets closed to traffic so children cansundials. In Canada, the Evergreen Foundation has a play (Dargan & Zeitlin, 1990). Such places are notrapidly growing schoolyard habitat program that has impossible even here in our car-adoring society.improved more than 400 schoolgrounds. Sweden has twonational playground improvement organizations. In theUnited States, various groups help schools improve their WORKING TOWARD DEWEYSyards: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state depart- REVOLUTIONments of natural resources, the National Wildlife The outdoor spaces that served as the starting pointFederation, and Project Wild all help in adding flora, for motivating children in Deweys ideal school need tofauna, and ponds. Isnt it ironic that well build wildlife be restored. As Dewey (1990) said of this school,habitats sooner than childlife habitats? Children too areendangered by their loss of habitat. Childrens gardening There is no mystery about it, no wonderful discovery of pedagogy or educational theory. It is simply a questionis another pursuit supported by a variety of organiza- of doing systematically and in a large, intelligent, andtions. Involving children in growing food is in accord competent way...[what homes should but cannot do].with Deweys practical spirit. The International (p. 35)Association for the Childs Right to Play (IPA) is astaunch advocate for childrens play spaces worldwide. Were Dewey now to survey our neighborhoods and schools, he would, I believe, advocate drastic remedia- tion of the outdoor environment accessible to our chil-Greenways—Good Idea for Children dren. He would surely argue for naturalized school- The greenways movement in the United States grounds, traffic-tamed streets, and supervised explo-though not aimed at childrens play nonetheless does ration areas, because without abundant outdoor experi-provide green places and open spaces for some children. ences children cannot develop what for Dewey (1990)An organizer for Vermont, Anne Lusk, has called for was absolutely fundamental, knowledge of geography.greenways to connect all 108,000 elementary schools in The unity of all the sciences is found in geography. Thethe U.S., creating outdoor classrooms for every child. significance of geography is that it presents the earth as the enduring home of the occupations of man...Human industry and achievement, apart from their roots in theMore Careful Land Development earth, are not even a sentiment, hardly a name. The earth Environmental regulations, particularly in attention is the final source of all mans food. It is his continual shelter and protection, the raw material of all his activi-to wetlands and storm drainage, have served to create ties, and the home to whose humanizing and idealizingbits of playable ground for children. Children, after all, all his achievement returns. It is the great field, the greatare not particularly helped by grand natural tracts in mine, the great source of the energies of heat, light, andremote National Parks; they need play places close at electricity; the great scene of ocean, stream, mountain,hand. and plain, of which all our agriculture and mining and lumbering, all our manufacturing and distributing agen- cies, are but the partial elements and factors, (pp. 18-19)Regulation of Traffic Children must know geography, especially their Streets actually are highly favored by children as own neighborhoods geography. Without it, their com-play places, since they are so readily accessible. Efforts prehension will be trivial and partial and to me, if not toat "traffic calming"—restricted access, speed bumps, Dewey, accompanied by a lamentable rootlessness thatlane narrowings, and lowered speeds— all increase chil- provides no "sense of place" in their earthly home.drens opportunities for safe play even while irritatingmotorists. In Northern Europe, some streets, woonerven,are designed for the activities of children and other resi- REFERENCESdents. Special signs alert motorists that no speed faster Dargan, A., & Zeitlin, S. (1990). City play. New Brunswick, NJ:than walking is allowed; benches, plantings, and a lack Rutgers University Press.of curbs increase the ambiance and active space between Eubank-Ahrens, B. (1984-85). The impact of woonerven on childrensbuildings. For children, increases in dramatic play, in behavior, Childrens Environments Quarterly, 1, 39-45. Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Collier.play with trikes, bikes and other wheel toys, in conversa- Dewey, J. (1990). The school and society; And the child and the cur-tion with other children and adults, and in overall partic- riculum: A centennial edition. Chicago: University of Chicagoipation have been observed on such safe streets (Eubank- Press.
  4. 4. 202 RivkinRivkin, M. S. (1995). The great outdoors: Restoring childrens right to Rivkin, M. S. (1997). The schoolyard habitat movement: What it is and play outside. Washington, DC: National Association for the why children need it. Early Childhood Education Journal, 25(1), Education of Young Children. 61-66.