Autism and benefits of nature in learning

Stephen McHugh
This post was last updated on
August 17, 2022
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Nature, in my words, can relate to everything in the physical and living world in which we live in along with the universe. What interests me most about nature is how everything and everyone can turn out without the intervention of man, and what it can offer us.

For me, one thing it can do is provide us with some respite from the stresses and anxieties related to everyday life. This can be beneficial to those of us on the autism spectrum, as anxiety can be quite a common event for us.

It also gives us a chance to be out in the fresh air and encourages us to do more in the way of exercise, helping to keep weight off, thus reducing the risk of future health problems.

Education and personal development

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Opportunities to interact with animals can help one to develop social and emotional skillsIt kind of made me feel sad to see daisies chopped by lawnmowers. I would sometimes pick daisies and dandelions to save them from being chopped up by lawnmowers.

Nature can, I find, help us to develop our language and communication skills and general understanding

Whenever I’m out walking in a park, I often notice how there can be little in the way of grass in shade areas, under trees being a prime example. This is due to the trees restricting the amount of sunlight and rainwater coming through. 

As trees grow, their roots become far more developed than those of the grass, enabling them to compete better for nutrients and water.

And watching flying creatures like birds, flies, wasps, and bees I found, made me ask myself how these creatures defy gravity.  

My explanation is that birds flap their wings at speeds enabling them to generate an upward force greater than the force pulling one down. The bird can have the front part of its wing higher than the part at the back. This forces the air downwards, helping to create the lift the bird needs. 

Nature offers us the chance to see how plants and animals interact with one another.  Seeing seeds being blown around in the wind and carried around by insects such as bees can explain how we get flowers and weeds growing elsewhere. 

Bees can be seen feeding on nectar and pollen from flowers. Nectar is eventually converted into the honey which we eat. From observing them around flowers, we can work out that they may be attracted by petal colours along with any scents from the flowers themselves.

Watching nature in action can aid one in getting in the habit of being more engaged and concentrating more. This is something I struggled with in the classroom when I was young.

The sights and sounds of nature can trigger ideas for various scenarios in story writing, painting, and other art-related designs. Sights can include different coloured leaves, shapes, and sunsets. 

The moon, planets, stars, and space can be included here too. Strangely enough, I once thought the moon had a bulb in it that only came on at night and went off in the day. As I observed it with a telescope during a total eclipse, I could see the darkness increasing across the moon’s surface. It was this event that left me confused about its light source when it went dark. 

After an investigation, I eventually learned that it, along with the other planets, reflected the sun’s light. This proved instrumental in me developing an intense interest in astronomy.

And when I think of mountains and caves, I try to imagine what gems may be hidden in rocks and the echoes of dripping water.

So nature can also encourage creativity, especially ideas for stories in terms of characters and settings. 

Activities

Nature can inspire ideas for projects to do.  This reminds me of a project I did on trees once for school. One thing I liked to do was count the number of rings of trees cut down to find out how old they were, especially wider ones. This gave me an insight into fascinating facts that some trees can live for hundreds and even thousands of years.  

One method I used to estimate the heights of trees in the garden was to measure the lengths of the shadows they cast on the ground.  This can be an example of how you can use nature to develop problem-solving skills.

It was during my project on trees that I heard about deforestation and its link to climate change. I was only 10 years old at the time and so didn’t really understand much about it then. However, one thing that stood out for me was that as deforestation increased, there would be less carbon dioxide absorbed by trees, leading to potentially serious consequences for the planet’s climate in the long run.

I had a fascination for particularly large numbers and extreme dimensions.  Therefore the idea of calculating the total number of dandelions, daisies, and/or blades of grass in gardens or fields would have appealed to me.

Anticipating when trees will blossom and flowers will bloom during spring can be a worthwhile activity, especially if the weather is warm and wet, conditions that can likely speed up growth. Pin

Other worthwhile scenes to predict include the variety of spectacular leaf colours during the autumn. A wet spring followed by a warm summer can be the ideal recipe for these, provided there’s no frost or storms with strong winds.

The water from any rains will contain minerals essential for the plant's growth and the formation of various pigments in the leaves. A warm summer will mean more sunlight and more chlorophyll, which reflects green light, accounting for the green colour of leaves. The warmer temperatures in the summer will also likely lead to increased photosynthesis.

Chlorophyll is a substance in leaves that absorbs sunlight which is then used to combine water and carbon dioxide to form glucose and oxygen in a process known as photosynthesis. This is how plants can make their food. The glucose can then be converted into other molecules for other purposes, such as proteins for cells and other plant tissues.

During the autumn, as the days become shorter, there is less sunlight available for photosynthesis. Consequently, the chlorophyll breaks down, and other substances within the leaves reveal themselves, leading to different colours being displayed, e.g pigments called carotenoids accounting for the orange and yellows.

Conclusion

As well as offering sights of beauty and aiding with our wellbeing, nature can offer other benefits in terms of one’s education and learning and encourage further exploration and investigation. 

As I was also naturally inquisitive, it got me asking myself questions regarding the whys and hows of things, especially why and how certain things occur the way they do.

If you’re in a teaching capacity or a parent, have you ever found being outdoors in natural settings beneficial in the ways they learn? Let me know in the comments section below.


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