Teach Outside – It’s Good For You!

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Kids on a nature walk

Standardized tests… crowded classrooms… too many things to do in a 6-hour school day.  What can you do? Take your students out for a walk!

Our world is full of technology that helps us communicate, learn, and play. Recently, Common Sense Media showed that the average screen time for young kids (0-8 years old) was over two hours a day (Common Sense Media Inc.). A variety of surveys have also documented a decreased amount of time spent outside; it seems we are trading green time for screen time. “Nature-Deficit Disorder” is the term coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, to describe the effects seen in children who don’t spend enough time outside engaging in outdoor play, exploration, or learning. The theory suggests a link between our society’s deteriorating connections with nature and the rise of health and emotional problems, including attention disorders, obesity, and depression.

Growing up, we were likely told that going outside is “good for us.” Many studies have shown this is actually  true! Children with attention deficits, for instance, concentrate better after a walk in the park, and outdoor time can be nearly as effective as ADHD treatment medications like Ritalin (Taylor and Cuo). Another report regarding the impacts of outdoor schools in California showed an incredible 27% increase in measured mastery of science concepts, enhanced cooperation and conflict resolution, self-esteem gains, and other positive outcomes in at-risk 6th graders who attended a one-week residential outdoor education program (American Institutes for Research). In Toronto, researchers investigated the impacts of “greening” within the Toronto District School Board. Teachers reported that students’ creative thinking, enthusiasm for learning, knowledge retention, and test scores improved overall. Greener school grounds also positively impacted teachers’ motivation and use of interdisciplinary approaches (Dyment).

As more and more classrooms use technologies such as SMART Boards, virtual field trips, online interactives, and other high tech tools, we must make a conscious effort to remember the value of hands-on, outdoor, and face-to-face activities. Outdoor teaching can help meet educational goals while helping students develop skills that will last a lifetime. Our K-12 Education resources focus on connecting kids to their local habitats, while developing science process and critical thinking skills that build curious and open minds.

Even if your own school grounds aren’t necessarily green, you can still take your students on a walk to a natural space. Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate nature into your school day:

  • Take your students outside for brief walks as a midday break, and try doing some bird watching and identification along the way!
  • Use whatever nature is within walking distance of your school to demonstrate concepts you’re covering in your curriculum, whether it be physics, literature, or life science.
  • When the weather permits, find an outdoor spot in your schoolyard and hold class outside.

Going Further and Additional Resources:

  • The goal of the Children & Nature Network is to foster vital connections between kids and nature. The network’s website is full of resources, tips, and research on the subject of making nature a part of our children’s worlds.
  • Cornell Lab bird bingo and scavenger hunt cards are fun and inexpensive resources that are sure to get your students excited to spend time outdoors, and can be reused for years to come.

References:

American Institutes for Research. Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California. California Department of Education, Jan. 2005, http://www.seer.org/pages/research/AIROutdoorSchool2005.pdf.

Common Sense Media Inc. The Common Sense Census: Media Used by Kids Zero to Eight. 2017, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/research/csm_zerotoeight_fullreport_release_2.pdf.

Dyment, Janet E. Gaining Ground: The Power and Potential of School Ground Greening in the Toronto District School Board. Evergreen Foundation: Toronto Canada, 2005, https://www.evergreen.ca/downloads/pdfs/Gaining-Ground.pdf.

Taylor, Andrea Faber, and Frances E. Kuo. “Children With Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park.” Journal of Attention Disorders, vol. 12, no. 5, Mar. 2009, pp. 402–409, doi:10.1177/1087054708323000.

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