I have a friend who is a primary school teacher in a fairly typical inner city school. In fact, she is not just a teacher, but also head of literacy, despite only having been a teacher for three years. She is passionate about engaging kids with books and that just shines through when you talk to her.
A few months ago, we were chatting about the importance of reading to kids. She told me about reading the Gruffalo with one of her classes. She hadn’t got past the first page when one of the kids interrupted. To ask why it was dark in the forest. None of the other kids could work it out either.
Why? Because these are kids who have never played in a wood.
They don’t know that trees block out light to make forests dark. They have no personal experience to fit these stories into.
I don’t think anyone would deny that learning to read is important. But my friend’s experience shows that outdoor play is a key part of fostering a love of books. Kids need to experience the physical world in order to let the imaginative world of literature take shape. To learn that trees cast shadows. To learn that grass swashes and mud squelches (especially when hunting bears).
It works the other way too. Books can provide a framework for creative outdoor play. Tom and I have hunted bears (well…ok… multicoloured plastic crabs) on the Walthamstow Marshes and enjoyed windy day play with Carol Thompson’s Wind
Experiencing firsthand the wonders of nature is integral to encouraging literacy in kids. And vice versa. Plus, who can argue with a love of books and a love of nature as worthy things to nurture in our kids?