Outdoors essential for holistic development

Outdoors essential for holistic development

I mourn the loss of the Singaporean pupils and their teacher and guide in the Sabah earthquake ("Day dedicated to memory of fallen climbers"; yesterday).

At the same time, I feel gratitude towards the unsung heroes - the teachers and guides - who did their best to protect these children during the natural disaster.

They are the ones who believed in the beauty of the great outdoors. They did their best to share this passion, hoping their pupils would learn much from the expedition.

Despite these altruistic, professional intentions, netizens have made negative comments about the school, teachers and the Education Ministry.

I am doing my PhD in environmental psychology, studying the impact of outdoor activities and being connected with nature. In my research, I have learnt about the importance of people being connected with nature.

Benefits of being outdoors include improved fitness, mental health and well-being; enhanced self-esteem; the development of pro-environmental habits; and better attention, memory and creativity.

In spite of these benefits, statistics show that people are staying inside more and going outdoors less. Singaporean Primary 1 pupils, for example, are spending less time outdoors than their Sydney counterparts.

This deficit of outdoor activities suggests a lack of connection with nature and may have an impact on pupils' holistic development.

A recent study established the importance for Singapore students of being connected with nature and being able to think creatively.

It is important that educators and parents continue to promote outdoor activities and engage children and young people with nature.

We need to overcome our fears and venture beyond our limits in order to achieve our true potential.

Over-protection will only hinder children's physical and mental development and also prevent them from learning important life skills.

Instead of avoiding the outdoors, we should learn from it.

It was, after all, the great outdoors that cultivated the altruistic personalities of the unsung heroes who taught and protected our children when a natural disaster happened.

Carmen Leong Lai Yin (Ms)

New Zealand

This article was first published on June 9, 2015.
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