Nature is my Medicine
Nature Walks Benefit Kids!
Standardized tests… crowded classrooms… too many things to do in a 6-hour school day. What can you do? Take your students out for a walk!
Taking your students away from the classroom can increase focus and even test scores.
A growing number of studies are assessing the benefits of nature for children. Many of them are finding wonderful impacts of getting kids outside! One such study shows that children with attention deficits concentrate better after a walk in the park (Journal of Attention Disorders, March 2009). In fact, the researchers found that outdoor time was almost as effective as medications such as Ritalin. Another report about the impacts of outdoor schools in California showed an incredible 27% increase in measured mastery of science concepts, enhanced cooperation and conflict resolution, gains in self esteem, and other positive outcomes in at-risk 6th graders who attended a 1-week residential outdoor education program .
In 2003, researchers investigated the impacts of “greening” the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Greening schools typically involved incorporating ponds, butterfly gardens, and other natural areas into school grounds. Amazingly, teachers reported through surveys that student enthusiasm for learning, creative thinking, and ability to retain knowledge increased greatly overall as a result of their greener environment, and some reported significantly increased standardized test scores as well! Additionally, researchers discovered that greener school grounds had profound and positive effects not only on students, but also on their teachers. In fact, most teachers agreed that their motivation and use of interdisciplinary approaches greatly increased as a result of using natural spaces in their lessons.
Even if your own school grounds aren’t necessarily green, you can still take your students on a walk to a natural space. Taking a walk with your students adds exercise to their day, and can help get them into the habit of incorporating outdoor exercise into their routines. A recent government survey reveals that young people aren’t getting nearly as much exercise as they should: only 29% of high school students achieved the recommended amount of physical activity—60 or more minutes a day—in the seven days before the survey. Another study by The Outdoor Foundation reported that children do not have as many opportunities to play outside because parents are concerned about safety; going outside as a class is a great opportunity that many kids may not have once they get home.
Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate nature walks into the school day:
- Take your students outside for brief walks as a midday break (and try doing some bird watching and identification along the way!)
- From physics, to literature, to life science… use the environment within walking distance of your school to demonstrate concepts you’re covering in your curriculum
- When the weather permits, find an outdoor spot in your schoolyard and hold class outside
In 2006, a group of educators, community leaders, and writers founded the Children and Nature Network with the goal of fostering vital connections between children and nature. The network’s website is full of resources, tips, and research on the subject of making nature a part of our children’s worlds. You can also use BirdSleuth resources to guide you as you connect your kids to nature through outdoor learning. Our Most Wanted Birds curriculum emphasizes learning scientific concepts through outdoor, inquiry-based experiences. If you’re not looking for a full curriculum, consider our bird bingo and scavenger hunt cards. These fun and inexpensive resources are sure to get your students excited to spend time outdoors, and can be used again and again for years to come.