The experience of playing with joy and freedom in nature and playing with your playmates in alleys and the neighborhood was the everyday experience of every child in our country until a few decades ago. Trees, garden insects, and animals, which we dealt with as kids, are the ingredients of childhood memories for the majority of us. Mud, water, soil, and other natural elements of the land, with their characteristic color and fragrance, lay the emotional foundation for many of our hobbies as adults. This direct contact with natural elements has all but vanished from the experience of contemporary children, as free play with other children is replaced by regular coursework and virtual activities.
Scholarship in this area has shown the critical role that direct, frequent, and immediate contact with nature plays in the development of children, especially those aged 12 and under, before they enter teenagehood. Also, they need to be in the natural environment and play joyfully with other children. The absence of this contact can lead to a variety of problems for children and interrupt the development of sensory, motor, affective, and cognitive capacities. Such problems should also raise the alarm for those concerned about the future of this country and its citizens. In addition, love of nature, homeland, and the environment are deeply formed and informed by this childhood experience.
Seeking a solution to these issues, in 2013, a small group of people gathered in Mashhad to create a program called Mr. Worm’s Journeys, which would over the years become the foundation of a movement for establishing Nature Schools across the country. Mr. Worm’s Journeys was conceived in close collaboration with Abdolhossein Vahabzadeh, a veteran ecologist who has spent decades developing and implementing child-nature educational programs.
The Nature School movement seeks to fulfill the following objectives:
– To allow children to play with, fantasize about, and explore the natural environment in an organic, safe, and healthy context and in close contact with the elements
– To develop sensory, motor, affective, and cognitive skills by creating a rich and diverse foundation for children’s experience and to set up an educational environment based on their own activities and experiences
– To improve the social and coping skills among children using games and group activities
– To instill a love of nature and land in children from an early age
All of which will help cultivate a generation of creative and proactive denizens of the Earth.
Despite the novelty and unfamiliarity of its mission, in just three years, the movement spread around like wildfire, leading to the establishment of over 40 nature schools in several cities.