The Outdoor Classroom: Where Nature Nurtures Kids’ Ability to Learn

magnifying-glassModern life often moves at a frantic pace: families, friends, and others often maintain full schedules with little time allowed to pause and take in what is happening around them.

For students arriving at school for the day, their morning may have been a blur of activity – hopping out of bed, getting dressed, eating a quick breakfast, then grabbing their backpack to head off to school.

A student’s day—like those of most adults—is often just moving, from one car, classroom, or building to another. The outside world oven gets overlooked. But it’s this outside world that may help students inside.

stewardshipAs adults, we know that the ability to focus on the task at hand can ensure its success. We also know that sometimes it is easier to maintain our focus than at other times.

The process of becoming better able to focus is where nature can help. And often it’s just a matter of getting kids outside.

In one study[1], children who spent one class session in a natural outdoor setting were more engaged and less distracted during indoor class time afterward than if they had been indoors for two consecutive classes.

Some teachers may have concerns that an outdoor classroom would over-stimulate students, making them less able to focus afterwards. Yet this study found the opposite to be true: classroom engagement was better for those students exposed to nature than those students taught solely in an indoor classroom.

studentsBeing in nature not only helps students to be more focused, it also introduces students to the first step in the scientific method: to observe

From watching the clouds while looking up at the sky, to rolling back a fallen log to investigate which creatures live underneath, to watching a flower emerge from the ground and ultimately bloom in springtime, nature offers an infinite number of opportunities to witness how plants, animals and climate interact.

Observation can lead to asking questions, instilling a curiosity about our natural world that spills over into the classroom.

And as teachers know, curious children make better students.

A student who develops a question based on their personal observation is developing curiosity and critical thinking skills.

See what these educators have to say about the benefits of nature for young learners.

Nature provides engaging and relaxing ways for students to learn, so let’s make the most of our greenspace to expand and transform children’s learning experiences.

Learn more by visiting www.ILoveMyLand.org today.

Questions? Contact us at ChildrenofIndianaNaturePark@tnc.org

Mary McConnell

Author: Mary McConnell, Director, The Nature Conservancy Indiana Chapter

[1] Lessons in nature boost classroom engagement afterward. Yates, Diana. University of Illinois. January 17, 2018.

Standing in Line for Life’s Basic Need: Water

Erik Byker

Dr. Erik Byker

Today’s blogger is Erik Jon Byker, Associate Professor in the Cato College of Education at UNC Charlotte. His article “Global Water Crisis: Preparing Preservice Teachers for ‘Day Zero,’” coauthored by Michael Putman, Chris Reddy, and Lesley LeGrange, appeared in the January 2019 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.

I often ask the undergraduate students I teach what they would be willing to stand in line for at least 1 hour to get.

After some quizzical expressions, the students chime in with responses like, “my favorite restaurant,” “concert tickets,” “roller coaster ride,” and “a sporting event.”

Then, I up the queue wait time to 3 hours, and the students go largely silent except for the one or two loyal music fans or sports fanatics.

I end the thought experiment by asking, “How long would you stand in line for a couple bottles of water?” Most of the students look at me rather puzzled and have a hard time even fathoming this inquiry.

Yet, waiting in line for water is increasingly becoming a daily reality for many people around the world.

About this same time last year, for example, citizens in Cape Town, South Africa, would line up to collect their daily water ration of just 50 liters of water per day. And Cape Town is not the only large urban area to be affected by the global water crisis. The British Broadcasting Company explained that there are nearly a dozen other large cities that are water stressed. This Friday, March 22, is World Water Day, which is a day to highlight the importance of water for sanitation and health (WASH).

World Water Day also helps to raise awareness about the global water crisis, which impacts more than 2 billion people around the globe. In her 2015 book Raising Awareness, Raising Hope, Lori Stoltzman shares other eye-opening statistics from the United Nations and the World Health Organization about the global water crisis:

  • Women and children (usually girls) spend up to 60% of each day walking to collect water.
  • 160 million children suffer from stunting and chronic malnutrition due to unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation.
  • Without access to a latrine, many girls in lesser developed nations stop going to school once they reach puberty.

Raising awareness is a pathway for taking action. In the article “Global Water Crisis: Preparing Preservice Teachers for ‘Day Zero,’” my colleagues and I discuss how an immersive study abroad experience in South Africa led many of our teacher candidate participants to adopt water conservation habits. Yet, educators do not have to travel halfway around the world to investigate the water crisis. There are examples like Flint, Michigan, and the Catawba River Basin in North Carolina, which impact localities across the United States.

To integrate World Water Day (which should be every day), educators can start by supporting their learners in examining the importance of water to everyday health and well-being.

One effective strategy for this examination is to distribute one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) icons and then simply ask the question, “How is water connected or related to the icon you have? Explain the connection.” Another strategy, which integrates with mathematics, is to have learners estimate how many liters of water are used for everyday activities like brushing teeth, flushing the toilet, cooking food, and washing dishes.

Such an activity helps learners analyze how quickly 50 liters of water can get consumed. As learners gain greater awareness about the importance of water, it could lead to participation in service learning opportunities organized by groups like H2O for Life, which engages learners of all ages in a Walk for Water.

To close, I ask again, “How long would you wait for a couple of bottles of water?” The question answers itself depending on the water scarcity. During World Water Day (and beyond), let’s commit to raising awareness and taking action about the global water crisis. Such acts are part of becoming a Critical Cosmopolitan Citizen or what Paulo Freire explained as developing a critical consciousness in order to rewrite the world.

I am more and more convinced that educators need to promote greater water literacy so that even a couple of bottles of water will be viewed as a precious resource to meet our daily need.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the Kappa Delta Pi Record with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through April 30, 2019.

World Water Day 2019

Click the image above to visit the official World Water Day website.

A Lost Experience: Kids in Nature

Have you ever asked your grandparents or parents about what they did for fun as a child?

If you did, you likely heard stories about climbing trees, building forts, chasing fireflies, fishing, riding bikes, playing outdoors with neighborhood friends, or going to a nearby park for a pickup game or sport.

Ask today’s elementary school students what they do for fun, and the answer is quite different.

The current generation of young people are playing video games, sending texts, and making posts on social media. Some are passionate about a sport, to which they may dedicate numerous hours each week. Most of these activities are done indoors.

Today, many kids stay inside because of the weather or from fear of a mosquito, spider, snake, or . . . (insert the name of your most dreaded creature).

The outdoor and nature-based activities of prior generations provided adventure, fun, and entertainment for youth.

Like the dinosaurs, are the outdoor activities of our parents and grandparents becoming extinct?

The Nature Conservancy wants to keep those connections to nature and the outdoor world very much alive. We want every child in Indiana—and the world—to enjoy the many benefits that nature gives us.

Scientists are studying nature’s effects on people and measuring some of the amazing things that we may have experienced or know intuitively. Being in nature helps adults reduce hypertension and depression. Kids who live on a farm and are exposed to soil and domestic animals are less likely to have asthma than urban children. The risk of nearsightedness is reduced when children play outside more. Playing in gardens or natural areas contributes positively to learning and development, aiding cooperation skills and reducing conflict among children.

Connecting to nature helps improve the health and well-being of children, their families, and their communities. The Nature Conservancy knows that if we care for nature, nature will care for us.

We want to encourage childhood time exploring nature and avoid the possibility that time in nature could become an “extinct” childhood experience.

Will you join us in this endeavor?

Questions? Contact us at ChildrenofIndianaNaturePark@tnc.org

Mary McConnell

Author: Mary McConnell, Director, The Nature Conservancy Indiana Chapter

Mother Nature—Kids’ Second Favorite Teacher

Remember your favorite teacher growing up?

Chances are, she inspired a love of learning in you. She probably told stories, showed examples, and helped connect the dots between lessons learned in the classroom and those in the outside world.

That’s just what nature can do for you and your students: inspire a love of learning, provide examples you can feel, and, most importantly, connect what we learn to how it can help our planet. Nature is a common denominator that we all share—and a wonderful natural teacher, too!

Although nature is all around us, getting students to connect to the natural world is often difficult, given the daily distractions of full schedules, screens, and information coming from all directions.

Yet the benefits we get from nature are endless.

Click here to learn more!

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is also good at connecting the dots.

Our long history of working to protect land and water in Indiana, across the United States, and around the world has helped bring together people and communities to find practical solutions to nature’s biggest challenges. Here at TNC, we know that if we protect nature, it will protect us.

Connecting to nature helps improve the health and well-being of children, their families, and their communities.

What’s more, nature can help kids become better learners. And, by learning more, we can help kids care more about the natural world and why they should help protect it. After first hearing the song of a bird through a website, kids can then listen for that sound outdoors and even hear it before they spot it in a tree. When you can identify an animal, you know what it is, and you probably care about it a little more than before you knew its name.

According to Solutions Journal, kids today can identify about 1,000 corporate logos, but few can identify more than a handful of native plant and animal species.

We all learn differently, whether it’s by sight, sound, touch, or interaction. Nature connects all the dots and is something that kids can experience using all their senses. Bringing nature into the classroom or, better yet, taking your kids out into nature, will stimulate their senses and help them connect what they learn in the classroom to the outside world.

With your help, your students could have a second favorite teacher: Mother Nature!

Mary McConnell

Author: Mary McConnell, Director, The Nature Conservancy Indiana Chapter

Join this year’s Green Apple Day of Service

Green Apple Day of Service kicks off this month! The Day of Service is an opportunity to join schools across the world in celebrating the central role that schools play in preparing the next generation of global leaders.

Since 2012, more than 790,000 volunteers in 73 countries have participated in events, affecting the learning environments of over 7 million students and teachers. With 1 in 8 people around the globe attending a school every day, there is more work to be done!

Every event is chance to give students hands-on experience with sustainability and to strengthen civic leadership, environmental literacy, and project management skills. 

A schoolyard cleanup project in Guatemala as part of GADOS 2016. This project used funds from private school workshops to fix up the courtyard of a local public school.

This year, participants make a commitment at the start of school and name their own project date for any time throughout the school year. To help with fundraising, Green Apple Day of Service is using the DonorsChoose.org platform to drive donations to schools, and the Center for Green Schools and its partners are providing thousands of dollars in match funding to projects that receive donations from their communities. Projects receive tailored guidance for their specific project date and project type, and they are eligible for prizes just by keeping up with planning and executing their project.

You can learn more about Green Apple Day of Service and sign up at greenapple.org.