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.

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