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We have come a very long way in a short amount of time. 

A modern renaissance has occurred. A commotion of science, mathematics, analytics, art, snap chat, Facebook and YouTube draw our collective gaze and our children are intrigued. How high up in the invisible ‘cloud’ of technology should they be? Reacquainting children with the outside world and extended periods of outside play is still a vital part of their development. Professor Nielsen helps us delve deeper into the matter as he studies the changing of the times.

Keep moving with the times

There is great concentration involved in a child’s play. The messier, the more outside, the more hands on, the better it is. Associate Professor Thomas Nielsen works is in the Faculty of Education at the University of Canberra. As part of his studies he is researching the merits of play involving creativity, imagination, well-being, Steiner education and what this means for children in the modern world.

Young children are part of a monumental shift as our technological capabilities become increasingly sophisticated.

“Never before have we been bombarded with so much information and so many images, good and bad, as we are now, and that makes our society one of the most complex ever.”

The age-old of adage to go outside and play has been altered somewhat. Research is showing that children are spending less time outdoors.

“The increase in technology is actually taking away from the playtime and that is a great concern of mine because it is like we have not really learned fully from the last decades of research. We, as a society, have not fully implemented the implications of that research and accommodated for how important play is.”

Professor Nielsen explains, for children aged between 0-7 it is all about the doing: “it is about the hands and the feet and the senses and the experiencing.”

To splash in a puddle, run through the trees, smell a eucalypt leaf or pick an apple from a branch- these are moments that form subtle but strong connections within a child’s memory and general brain development. Professor Nielsen said that young children primarily learn through doing; they learn though using their hands and their feet and their senses: “This does not mean that the learning cannot engage the emotions, it does, but it is primarily through the senses and the doing that the emotions are stimulated.”

Of course, children are still playing and want to continue to play but technology is changing the time available and dedicated to play.

“There is no doubt that children are going to learn the technology that they need anyway, so my view is that it is just way too imbalanced at the moment.”

“It does not make any sense to keep children inside in four walls for as long as we do at the moment and to put technology in their hands as early as we do and expect them to engage with that for as long as we do.”    

Each of these facets- the play, the nature, the connect, the human interaction- they are all interrelated, yet if these primary needs of our human nature are not given quality time, Professor Nielsen says that an imbalance occurs.

“If you look at the collective body of research we know that nature is important for all of us and especially for children because they are in that stage where the physical body is the main focus in their development. We are doing them a disservice by putting an iPad in front of them rather than making sure that they are out in nature, playing with natural materials.”

Professor Nielsen is interested in the bigger picture. He is trying to create a balance for the children of today. While advancement is positive and the globalised world helps us connect in more mind-blowing ways than conceivable, it should not be replacing the things that make us who we are, that is moving, curious, affectionate human beings who are as much a part of the outside world as any technology in our lives.

Article by Sinead Halliday

Nielsen, T. W. (2006). Towards a pedagogy of imagination: A phenomenological case study of holistic education. Ethnography and Education1(2), 247-264.