A growing number of researchers and educators are finding that outside time has benefits beyond leisure — and may be the key to happy and healthy children, schools, and communities.
In her research at HGSE, alum Erica Fine found that “frequent, close-to-home experiences are one of the best tools we have at connecting kids to nature.” Students who have a chance at recess to explore a tree or a wild patch of grass learn to be creative within their surroundings. Regular time outside gives kids more opportunities to exercise, and it lets them notice and appreciate all of nature — not just breathtaking views seen while camping, but also ants on the playground or a squirrel in the yard.
Here are 7 tips from HGSE's Usable Knowledge on integrating the outdoors into the school year:
- Designate a “wild” area of the schoolyard for children to explore. Let the grass grow and animals make nests, and keep sticks and branches within reach of students. Encourage students to climb, discover, and play in the area.
- Create an outdoor classroom where groups can meet to read, write, draw, or learn about the environment.
- Let students eat lunch and do phys ed outside, weather permitting.
- Foster partnerships between schools and local parks. Visit parks for outdoor lessons and free play, and offer to let the town use school playgrounds on weekends. These partnerships can be especially important for urban, low-income students, who may have fewer opportunities to visit green spaces on their own.
- Take students for a walk during the day to make observations about the environment, to practice mindfulness, or to complete a teamwork activity.
- Plan a fieldtrip where students can experience nature without technology. While immersive overnight programs can be transformational for students, they can also be expensive. Single-day adventures can be just as fun, with longlasting benefits.
- Model the kind of engagement you want your students to have with nature. Explore new developments on the playground, play with fallen leaves, and vocalize what you notice and love about the outdoors.