Yesterday was beautiful. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I could finally begin to feel the weight of winter being lifted off our shoulders. In Michigan, these are the days we long for. And for all of us who have had children cooped up in our homes and classrooms for far too long, we are reminded of the simple beauty that exists right outside of our doors.

And did I mention the energy? I love that newfound energy and excitement that exudes out of every fiber of their being. It’s almost like they are experiencing something for the very first time. And they are – a rebirth unique to this very moment.

Nature is a wonderful thing. In recent days I have been reminded of the need for experiences in the great outdoors. Being out in nature can help foster and preserve our students’ sense of wonder, interest, and awe with the natural world.

The Great Outdoors

Nature helps us understand the necessity of protecting wonder – a way of being toward the world that tends to get nearly stomped out of existence by the time we hit adulthood. But why does this happen? In many ways, the structure of our fast-paced, tech-centric world and how we are forced to maneuver through it creates a reality that is quite distant from experiencing the natural wonders all around us. And while some of this is unavoidable, we certainly can push to move the needle in the other direction.

As teachers, we find ourselves within the four walls of our classroom most often. And there is certainly a need for this at times. But if our goal is to foster curious and creative thinkers who are capable of solving problems through exploration and discovery, this alone is the perfect argument in favor of getting our students outdoors.

Many of us educators recognize that being outside in nature is good for our student’s health. But is there a trade-off? Does encouraging our students to get outside mean less academic learning leading to overall lower academic success? 

No. The research is out there. It turns out that the opposite may be true. We’ve discovered that nature is not just good for kids’ health but it also improves their ability to learn.

Revitalizing the Mind

I found this very interesting. In one study, fifth-grade students attended school regularly at a local prairie wetlands. The content areas of science, math, and writing were taught in an integrated, experiential way as students participated in authentic onsite research. When compared to peers attending regular schools, those who’d attended school outside had significantly stronger reading and writing skills (as measured by standardized tests). But we know it is so much more than the standardized tests. These students reported feeling more excited about school because of their experiences in the great outdoors. And, students wanted to be there! Those at the outdoor school who’d previously had low attendance rates ended up with higher attendance, too.

Now, this is an extreme situation. Most of us are beginning to wrap up the school year and have no intentions of re-branding ourselves as an exclusive outdoor teacher in the fall. But even small doses of nature experiences can have significant benefits. Other studies have found that students’ attention increases, engagement and interest in learning increases, and stress levels decrease.

Giving our students the opportunities to get outside and be one with nature will get them asking questions, finding solutions, and taking on new challenges that simply may not have been identified or grappled with in the traditional classroom setting.

*Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

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