There is a movement of sorts to move some aspects of education to the out doors. I was involved on the local level in the late 80s as a naturalist for a consortium of school districts, providing educational experiences outside the traditional classroom to hundreds of school-aged children. It seems only natural that I should have continued to educate my own children out of doors when I decided to homeschool. And to this day, I do try to get the children out for many hours during the week, though as they get older, they often have their own plans, which may or may not included outdoor activities. Still, not one of my children balks at the idea of being outside for long hours, and we enjoy hiking and exploring as a family as frequently as possible. Even the college student living in the Big City likes to walk through the park for the refreshment of spirit.
Outdoor Education is nothing new. Educators like the late Charlotte Mason have advocated long hours out of doors for children, especially young children, and I have always agreed. But there is currently a growing movement that is knocking on the door of mainstream educators called "No Child Left Inside" with the well-organized Children and Nature Network as a major proponent of outdoor education. I think these folks are on the right track...but like most innovational educational movements, the public education system will at best interfere, muddling the purpose of outdoor education, and, at worst, ruin the best efforts of outdoor education proponents and declare it a failure.
Consider this article and video of a new outdoor-based education model in Wales. I just watched the video of the new school program (listen for the very cute Welsh lilts in the children's voices), and it struck me funny that the children were outside yet doing the things they might well do while inside a classroom. Certainly, making "crowns" is not an activity exclusive to the outdoors, even if you do glue leaves upon them. And while the model of education is "play-based," the reporters are quick to note that the "best" Scandinavian models start formal education later, yet read earlier.
Thought: Start formal education later=save taxpayers money, and, according to the reporter, the results are better. If the play-based outdoor education model is better, why do it in school? Surely it does not take an expert in education to allow children to play freely? And as we see from the video, professional educators cannot help but meddle, having the children make paper crowns. Sheesh. When I was a kid, if we wanted to make a crown of natural materials, we might take forsythia and weave it together. We might make long chains of dandelion stems or make daisy necklaces. We might do any number of things without anyone giving us an assignment and making it "educational." And my own children, without any formal education, did the same sort of things, from building forts to hiking hills, to planning gardens.
These folks in charge, well-meaning as I am sure they are, cannot in one breath talk about children being natural learners and then instruct them in paper crafts which just don't follow any natural model of play-based activity. There is a place for the adult, certainly, in the world of early childhood education, but if that adult is not the parent, then the educator replacing the parent must learn to facilitate rather than initiate activity. Better yet, keep the children home and get them into the great outdoors daily. It's not that difficult, and you don't need a federal program.
BTW...here are some crowns from our 2007 outdoor production of A Midsummer Night's Dream: