The world is living through a K-shaped recovery; certain sectors of the economy have recovered quickly from the COVID pandemic, while others continue to struggle. Students around the world have had a similarly K-shaped experience — not only with regard to their economic well-being, but with regard to how the pandemic has changed the trajectory of their education. 

One simple factor has played an outsized role in determining whether students have thrived or floundered. It’s a factor that you, as an educator, can largely control. Here’s how to put your students on the happy side of the K.

The Natural Way

When the world shut down in March of 2020, much of the world started watching more birds. With schools and workplaces shut down, we had more time to explore nature. Some schools leaned into the opportunity and embraced an educational approach that was, literally, more natural. Others, scrambling to do the best they could, ended up pushing students into a world full of screens.

That was the point at which the K-shaped experience diverged. We know that interactions with nature can improve both mental health and physical well-being. “Nature deficit disorder” has deleterious impacts on student academic performance. Conversely, excessive screen time increases mental health risks. It can impair student learning, and corrodes student physical health. Schools that leveraged nature did their students a valuable service in thriving through the pandemic.

As restrictions have eased and many students have returned to in-person learning, many aspects of pandemic pedagogy remain. Schools that encouraged outdoor learning are more likely to retain facets of the natural approach, while schools that relied heavily on electronics to weather the pandemic are likely to shift their instruction toward technology.

Of course, these tech solutions aren’t all bad. Technology can open doors and engage minds, and can help teachers save time so that they can focus their energies on building relationships, planning rich learning experiences, and expanding themselves professionally. But for the vast majority of students, their worlds are filled with plenty of technology and far too little nature, and schools that come out of the pandemic with a focus on shifting that balance will help their students thrive — emotionally, physically, and academically.

How to Get Natural

My focus this May is on supporting teachers who want to integrate the great outdoors into their classrooms; our most recent Timely Topic resource is the A-MAY-zing Outdoors, and can be downloaded for free.

Other great ideas for getting yours students outdoors include taking a nature walk (and keeping an observation journal), creating a classroom garden or outdoor area your class can take ownership of and care for, or starting a science experiment that will require regular outdoor investigation — think about monitoring the changes a tree is undergoing this spring, or about checking the position of shadows at the same time of day for several weeks. Even better, embark on a sustained project that gets students outside and helps them integrate their learning into a rich, meaningful project

We all want our students to come out of the pandemic equipped to live more fully flourishing lives. Don’t underestimate the power of the great outdoors to help your class be a happier, healthier place!

We hope you are all staying healthy and safe during this difficult time. For more free educational resources, or ideas on how to promote healthy SEL, simply follow this link!

*Image courtesy of PROPOLI87 via Wikimedia Commons.