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Self Science

 

                               “All learning has an emotional base.”   Plato

So many children today grow up in a world of neglect, violence, and despair. Most of America’s youth are at risk. More than half of America’s high school seniors have witnessed violent crimes at school and between three and six children are killed by abuse daily. Our educators are struggling today with little support and few tools to effectively equip students for the climate of trauma and fear.

We have experienced a burst in the scientific study of emotional learning and the functioning of the brain and have a more accurate insight into the processes of learning, feeling, and thinking.

Self-Science is a valuable, effective approach to building a vital set of skills and understandings. The value of Self-Science has been proven in practice and in research. In his bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goldman calls this program “a model for the teaching of emotional intelligence” as one of the two curricula he recommends.

Self-Science is designed to build emotional intelligence and to develop a learning community that fosters respect, responsibility, and resiliency.

Fundamental skills the program teaches:

Recognize, understand, communicate, and manage feelings.

Recognize and redirect patterns of behavior.

Set goals and move toward them.

Increase respectful communication, thinking, and behaviors.

Results from Implementing the Emotional Intelligence curriculum are:

Higher motivation

More creativity

Higher academic achievement

Greater safety and inclusion and less violence

More accountability

Better relationships

Improved social skills

Increased lifelong success

For teachers, improved EQ skills increase “on task” behaviors and reduce discipline problems

We have not learned how to make quality of life, joy, purpose, and connection a part of our daily lives. Our society is faced with overwhelming problems of poverty, violence, racism, and selfishness.

Children need to be equipped with tools to grow strong despite the negativity that surrounds them. They need strategies to manage themselves and to reshape their society.

Schools cannot replace family, church, or other cultural systems that historically have shaped the integrity and morality of children. Given our current situation schools need to help reinforce the principles that we all share as a society.

The U.S. is the only country on the entire planet that does not have either a religious context for instruction or a values program as a framework/foundation. It is essential that schools support the learning of parental and community values and the universal principles of our society.

The Self-Science curriculum is based on some very simple assumptions:

The more conscious one is of experiencing, the greater the potential for self-knowledge. The more self-knowledge one gains, the more likely it is that one can respond positively to one’s self and others.

These assumptions are based upon a careful and critical study of respected research in the area of affective education. Eclectic in origin, Self-Science draws principally from 30 years of practice along with research on learning and development; Seligman’s studies of optimism; Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; Kelly’s psychology of personal constructs; child personality and development studies; Neuro-Lingusitic Programming; and scientific methods of inquiry.

Emotions are not in the way of learning, but they are the route to learning. Emotions are not peripheral, but they are central to being human. Perhaps most satisfying for educators, emotional skills are learnable.The following is an great website to learn a lot more.

The Emotional Intelligence Network

Six Seconds is a research and practice organization that supports educators who wish to make SEL(social-emotional Learning) part of their school environment. We do this by:

  1. Conducting, supporting, and sharing research  on effective implementation of social emotional learning.
  2. Encouraging effective SEL implementation through  Benchmarks for Social Emotional Learning.
  3. Supporting additional research through Six Seconds’ Grants.
  4. Equipping educators and faculty withcertification training in tools and processes to fully integrate SEL.
  5. Connecting the community of emotional intelligence change makers.

The Arts and Education

The Arts employ all of our senses.

The young child is a creative child with the ability to appreciate and participate in the creative arts.Through the arts children develop the ability to observe, express, and draw conclusions across disciplines and embrace a lifelong love and appreciation for the arts. The creative arts are a basic human need.

The arts have stood alone for a very long time as subjects isolated into packets of instruction. The arts should be integrated into most areas of the curriculum to produce a well-rounded creative person. It is important to encourage creative expression and nurture the creative talents of children.

Music is a form of storytelling. It is a natural active thing and part of the soul of humanity. Music comes from the heart of life. Singing exercises the lungs, increases breath control, aids speech development and sound and volume control, and increases vocabulary. Teach a second language through song! Music is mathematical. It’s stories. Tune in to the rhythm of our heart! Make music a part of every day.

Explore rhythm with young children with simple claps. Then add clap/patch (clap thighs) and then clap/patch/snap(snap fingers.) A drum is important in the classroom. The drumbeat sets the rhythm to the music and the children follow. Children like to take turns doing this. Be creative. There are many things you can do with a simple drum

Musical instruments can be bought or made. My first rhythm sticks I made of bamboo. I recommend about eight inch, but you can make them thin or fat, long or short.

Shakers can be from gourds you plant to seashells tied together, or salt boxes with beans or rice or pebbles inside for different sounds. I stay away from plastic anything. Explore and create. You might create shakers filled with different things for children to identify or match sounds together.

Octave bells are used to develop ear training and pitch. I use them to see if they can tell me which is high or low or they can put them in order of pitch and we can also make simple music with them.

Sound games are fun for children. I had a musical bingo game of different instruments sounds and a recording of animal sounds. Children need to develop their sense of hearing. Vocal sound games strengthen the vocal anatomy (animal sounds, laughter, sirens.)

Create a sound machine. Each child chooses a sound and their movements then they gather to each other to make a moving machine. It’s fun. One of my classes did this as entry into the theater where they were performing. It was great!

 

Control of the breath comes from singing and through breathing exercises. Singing enhances vocal ability and strengthens the lungs. It is important to chose music and exercises that strengthen the vocal anatomy (tongue, lips, throat muscles.)

 

Visual arts – to draw is to look, to look is to see, to see is to have vision, to have vision is to understand, to understand is to know, to know is to become, and to become is to live.

Nature will inspire children’s drawings. Let them create from natural materials and not pom-poms and artificial junk. There are so many fun natural materials to use and most will cost you nothing.

Not only do children need experiences of visual creation, they need to be exposed to fine art. Take them to the art gallery or an art show or invite artists to your class.

It’s important for young children to simply explore the line – straight lines, spirals, and curves. Experiment with dark and light, black and white.

Children need to explore the basic elements of the visual arts: line, shape, color, space, form, texture, and value.

When it comes to color sorting, you can make color gradient boxes using paint strips from the paint store. Large watercolor blocks are easy for children to use painting and always safe.

Have a weaving wall inside or outside the classroom. There are many areas of the visual arts: sculpture, jewelry making, carving (I remember carving a bird from a piece of soap), painting, collage, drawing, coloring, printing, stamping, dying, sewing, weaving, paper making, pottery, photography, and graphic design to name a few. Explore the visual arts with students. Learn by playing!

Enjoy creative experiences, talk about art, create art and go on art adventures. Help children develop an awareness of art in books and in every day life. Create a classroom gallery.

Theatre – Children are natural actors. Allow children to act out in circle time, explore expression and tone with their voices, play theatre games, and pantomime.

Children must be given the opportunity to speak and be heard. Listen and respond to children. Let them tell a story or recite a poem they know. Very young children usually start out doing little finger plays when they are young. Children are still trying to master language so it is good to let them talk and even take turns telling a story, maybe even create a puppet show!

For the very young child reading to them at home is one of the best language learning exercises I know and also stimulates the imagination.

Be imaginative in exploring gestures, posture, movements and body language, vocal tone and variations, facial expressions, and the way we walk.

There are many theatre games for older children like changing hats, building a character, fact or fiction, famous people, invisible shapes, news broadcast, etc. A class of eight and nine year olds in Charleston presented a play in French for Piccolo Spoleto one year. The school also had a summer arts program that included performances

Movement is required for a young child to develop balance, coordination, strength and even rhythm. Perception and motor development go hand in hand. A dancer’s body channels and radiates the music through balanced precise movement! Have children do movement to their songs. Practice yoga exercises 15 minutes a day. Leave time for outside play. Some playgrounds are designed to enhance their perceptual and motor development and encourage exploration. Others are filled with metal bars and swings that become basketball courts and football fields.

Outdoor in nature is where children like and need to be. Ask yourself if what you are doing is something you can do outside and start going outside more. You may find it harder at first because children get so excited about going outside, but with a little time they will calm down and develop more self-control. You will find that things will begin to flow and soon go much better outside and inside the classroom.

Another great fun exercise is dancing. You can introduce culture and language through dance and it is so much fun!

     Writing and Language Arts – The very young child focuses on the sounds and rhythm of language to learn speech and then read and write. They can learn to rhyme words very early and enjoy making silly rhymes.

When the child is able to write, keeping a journal is a useful tool. The diary is a type of personal journal. Students can keep a journal of dreams, experiments, thoughts, progress of a plant growing or a journal of their poetry and stories.

Some students like to experiment with ways of writing. Once a child learns to write, they may play and explore writing in different ways such as printing, cursive, writing in a mirror image, writing in code, or invisible writing. They may explore different tools to write with such as pencils, pen and ink, bamboo pens, feather pens, etc. Give them the materials, explain their use, and let them explore and create!

Famous Rock Formations

 

DEVIL’S TOWER

Geologists classify it as an “igneous intrusion. Native Americans regard the tower as sacred ground. Today, the 1,267-foot formation stands as the centerpiece of Devils Tower National Monument.

NATURAL BRIDGE

Carved by a creek, Natural Bridge in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is one of the most famous natural sites. Standing 215 feet high, with a span of 90 feet, the formation is open to the public. Natural Bridge makes this list because its early supporters were extremely persistent in promoting Natural Bridge, once hailed as “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”

STONE MOUNTAIN

Confederate States of America icons Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, along with their horses, are chiseled into the face of Stone Mountain, located just east of Atlanta, Georgia. Work on the carving began in 1916, but was abandoned in 1925. The sculptor who unexpectedly walked away from the Stone Mountain Carving, Gutzon Borglon, didn’t stay out of sight long — he began work on his signature achievement, Mount Rushmore, two years later. The Stone Mountain Carving was abandoned for nearly 40 years before resuming from 1963 until its completion in 1972. The carving, which is the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world, is 400 feet above the ground and measures 90 wide by 190 feet tall. In case you’re wondering, the heads of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore measure about 60 feet tall.

 

THE WAVE

The Wave is a rock formation located on the Arizona/Utah border. Erosion through millions of years created the swirls and ridges in the sandstone that give the area such an otherworldly appearance. Of all the rocks on this list, this is the most difficult to visit, requiring a tough 6-mile round trip hike. Access to the Wave is limited to 20 visitors per day, and applications must be made months in advance.

DELICATE ARCH

At the Arches National Park in Utah, the Delicate Arch stands out above the rest. The 52-foot-high sandstone formation is the state symbol of Utah. It is a strenuous 3-mile round-trip hike.

PLYMOUTH ROCK

Plymouth Rock remains an important part of American heritage. The rock is a popular attraction in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

MOUNT RUSHMORE

Mount Rushmore was carved out of a granite mountainside in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The sculpture is of the faces of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Construction ceased in 1941 after 14 years when funding ran out.

The Forest Schools

 

 What we love, we are likely to protect. To love something, we must know it. Nature affords     children a direct experience with a world not made by humans where they can feel themselves as a part of a larger community of life.

A forest kindergarten is a kindergarten “without ceiling or walls”.

 

“Because children’s experience of nature remains a vital and irreplaceable source of healthy development, nothing less than the future of our species is at stake in maintaining and, when compromised, restoring this relationship. The crisis of deeply diminished connections between children and the biological basis of our humanity is too great for us to remain passive. The scale and scope of the problem calls for bold steps and a deeper understanding of what is at stake. “                                                                                                  – Reflections on Children’s Experience of Nature, Stephen R. Kellert

The Forest School is a model of early childhood education that was developed in Europe in the 1950s and very popular in many European countries. The hallmark of a true “forest kindergarten” is that the children are exclusively outdoors, year round, regardless of the weather (primitive shelter is available and weather appropriate clothing is required.

While modern mainstream early childhood education emphasizes academics and the use of technology, forest kindergartens support a child’s connection to the natural world, to other people, and to their own developing intuition. The forest kindergartens of Europe now have several decades and generations of experience that demonstrate that forest kindergartens are the optimal environment for the healthy development of the young child.

Early childhood development experts agree that free-range, imaginative play learning available in a forest kindergarten environment supports gross and fine motor skills, balance, coordination, problem-solving socialization, creativity, imagination and empathy. The development of these qualities is essential during the critical ages of 4-7 years old, when right brain activity is dominant in the young child. The current focus in mainstream early childhood education in the U.S. on rational left brain activities such as reading and writing is premature and inappropriate according to the most respected early childhood development experts.  Indeed, many European countries such as Switzerland and Finland, whose students statistically outperform U.S. students, do not begin academic schooling until age seven.

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”   Albert Einstein

When children from German Forest Schools go to primary school, teachers observe a significant improvement in reading, writing, mathematics, social interactions and many other areas. Roland Gorges, a researcher, stated that children who had been to a forest kindergarten were above average, compared by teachers to those who had not, in all areas of skill 

tested. In order of advantage, these were:

Improved skills
Knowledge and skills in specific subjects.
Reading
Mathematics
Constructive contributions to learning
Asking questions and interest in learning
Motivation

“For the child, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. It is more important to pave the way for a child to want to know, than to put him on a diet of facts that he is not ready to assimilate.”  Rachel Carson

“Empathy between the child and the natural world should be a main objective for children ages four through seven. As children begin their forays into the natural world, we can encourage feelings for the creatures living there. Early childhood is characterized by a lack of differentiation between the self and the other. Children feel implicitly drawn to baby animals; a child feels pain when someone else scrapes her knee. Rather than force separateness, we want to cultivate that sense of connectedness so that it can become the emotional foundation for the more abstract ecological concept that everything is connected to everything else. Stories, songs, moving like animals, celebrating seasons, and fostering Rachel Carson’s “sense of wonder” should be primary activities during this stage.”  David Sobel, author of “Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators” and many other excellent books.

Children today are facing a crisis of disconnection from the natural world, as indicated by the term “nature deficit disorder”, coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, “Last Child In The Woods”.  ​

Besides the enormous benefits for the healthy development of the young child, the other reason our world needs Forest Schools is that our planet is in trouble.  The modern way of life is rapidly consuming the Earth, creating the enormous ecological disaster currently unfolding. Our Earth needs several generations of nature-connected children who grow into empowered, imaginative, nature-connected adults capable of solving the myriad of problems they will inherit. Forest kindergartens are a visionary, long-range, generation-spanning form of ecological responsibility.

Besides the enormous benefits for the healthy development of the young child, the other reason our world needs Forest Schools is that our planet is in trouble.  The modern way of life is rapidly consuming the Earth, creating the enormous ecological disaster currently unfolding. Our Earth needs several generations of nature-connected children who grow into empowered, imaginative, nature-connected adults capable of solving the myriad of problems they will inherit. Forest kindergartens are a visionary, long-range, generation-spanning form of ecological responsibility.

Benefits of Forest School

  • Improved confidence, social skills, communication, motivation, and concentration
  • Improved physical stamina, fine and gross motor skills
  • Positive identity formation for individuals and communities
  • Environmentally sustainable behaviors and ecological literacy
  • Increased knowledge of environment, increased frequency of visiting nature within families
  • Healthy and safe risk-taking
  • Improved creativity and resilience
  • Improved academic achievement and self-regulation
  • Reduced stress, increased patience, self-discipline, attention span, and recovery from mental fatigue
  • Improved higher level cognitive skills

The biophilia hypothesis argues that a love of nature is instinctive. The term nature deficit disorder, coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods recognizes the erosion of this by the urbanization of human society. Attention restoration theory and related psychological work has proven health benefits in reduced stress, improved concentration and improved medical outcomes from surgery.

Playing outside for prolonged periods has been shown to have a positive impact on children’s development, particularly in the areas of balance and agility, but also manual dexterity, physical coordination, tactile sensitivity, and depth perception. According to these studies, children who attend forest kindergartens experience fewer injuries due to accidents and are less likely to injure themselves in a fall. A child’s ability to assess risks improves, for example in handling fire and dangerous tools. Other studies have shown that spending time in nature improves attention and medical prognosis in women. Playing outdoors is also said to strengthen the immune systems of children and daycare professionals.

​     The forest kindergarten movement is in its infancy in the United States.  The first forest kindergartens in the U.S. started in California in the 1990s  (Tender Tracks and Wild Roots Forest School.)  In the southeastern U.S. there are only a scattered few forest kindergartens at present, but the movement is gaining momentum.

Establishing a Forest School: Two main routes to establishing a Forest School program:

  1. Employ (or contract in the services) of an existing Level 3 Forest School practitioner
  2. Train one of your existing staff to become a Level 3 Forest School practitioner

One of our first forest schools was Wild Roots Forest School in Santa Barbara meets in local, natural spaces. The sky is our ceiling, the trees are our walls, and the floor is the living Earth. Children learn to identify local flora and fauna, recognize patterns in nature, build physical prowess, agility, and confidence, and develop a solid foundation for lifelong learning. Our classes are busy foraging, recognizing plants that can heal or harm us, tracking and observing animals, observing changes on the land, painting, drawing, crafting, and playing in nature’s playground. Using wild harvested materials in our play and work helps us to experience our interdependence through all of our senses.                    With a strong daily rhythm, our classes are infused with songs, games, poetry, storytelling, and plays. This creative work develops, among a wide array of skills and qualities, a keen memory, a rich vocabulary, the firm foundation for future literacy, and a strong sense of rhythm. Our imagination acts as a bond with nature and helps us develop reverence, understanding, and compassion. Daily, the land offers a host of new adventures to spark the natural curiosity and imagination of each child.

The Asheville Forest School on the east coast in N.C. provides nature-based education that supports the healthy development of the whole child—body, mind and spirit–and helps them realize their full potential and become compassionate stewards of the Earth.

Books:

  • The Outdoor Classroom by Hilary Harriman
  • The Outdoor Classroom Ages 3-7       Karen Constable
  • Play the Forest School Way   Peter Houghton & Jane Worroll

Links:

Outdoor Learning 

The Forest School Association

Forest Academy Teacher Training

 

 

Research to Support Gardening in Schools Programs

Research to Support Gardening in Schools Programs

 

School gardening research studies that may help fuel your proposals.

  • Gardens are places where the cycle of life and season’s come alive for kids.
  • Nothing about a garden is abstract.
  • Gardening with children is active learning.
  • The science concepts and skills students gain from a garden project are impressive.
  • The garden classroom is an environment where children learn about plants, food, and nutrition.
  • Enhances the core curriculum in math, language, health and science.
  • The science concepts and skills students gain from a garden improve reading, reading comprehension, spelling, and written expression.
  • Gardening encourages responsibility, patience, and cooperative behavior.
  • Kids are enthusiastic, interested, take initiative and develop a love for nature, plants and science.
  • Encourages environmental awareness and concern for the human impact.
  • Kids gain a greater understanding of life science concepts, life cycles.
  • Kids gain a clearer understanding of science processes, and improve problem solving skills, math skills, and language arts skills.
  • Student behavior improves when the garden is a learning context.
  • Kids exhibit a greater increase in social concerns (feeding the hungry).
  • Improves relationships with students and parents.
  • Kids who are behaviorally disturbed or learning impaired make great strides in a gardening program.
  • When children have an opportunity to create a garden, become ‘experts,’ and share their expertise with others, their skills and confidence soar.
  • Scores are significantly higher in students’ understanding of key life science concepts and science inquiry skills.
  • Scores are higher on attitude scales measuring “concern for the environment” and “confidence in ability to do science.”
  • Attitudes toward vegetables improves, and their preferences for fruit and vegetables.
  • Beyond offering rich language arts opportunities, the garden is a natural context for science inquiries, math problem solving, and developing social skills such as working together to puzzle out problems.
  • Kids become more expressive and better citizens.
  • Students understand the interdependence of life and overcome fears about nature.
  • Kids learn about conservation and recycling and develop skills they can use for the rest of their lives.
  • The garden develops deep roots for lifelong learners.
  • Gardening enhances the core curriculum.
  • Children learn to share, and work as a team.
  • The most significant student gains are in self-esteem and achievement in reading, reading comprehension, spelling, and written expression.
  • At the end kids will be more confident, more expressive, advanced academically and better citizens.
  • They learn about conservation and recycling and develop skills they can use for the rest of their lives.
  • The garden shows the children’s strength, ability, and love for the outdoors and nature. It develops deep roots for lifelong learners.
  • The curriculum is broad and the health benefits are great.
  • Freedom comes with self-control, caring, sharing, and kindness and these grow in a garden.
  • Gardens are a place where the cycle of life and season’s come alive for kids.
  • Gardens can bridge age gaps by bringing together family and community members who are generations apart.
  • Gardens are a place of spontaneous hands-on discovery that can’t occur sitting at a desk or reading a book.
  • Young children strengthen fine and gross motor skills and experience their own impact on their environment.
  • Children hone their observation skills and develop scientific understanding, as early as preschool years, as they watch plants change and grow.
  • Gardening is a way to learn and contributes to the vision for a healthier more active community.
  • The natural world is a teacher and gives us sustenance, strength, and inspiration.
  • Kids learn the consequences of one’s actions in a very direct way.
  • Gardening with kids gives them “a real-life connection to what they learn in the classroom and develops deep roots for lifelong learning.
  • Sound nutrition and physical activity are a critical part of children’s health and development.
  • Gardening programs improve communication skills, increase knowledge and understanding of each other, promote peace, and bring about healthy changes in kids lives, their community and the world.
  • Gardening with kids has a lifelong impact.
  • Learn about the uniqueness of the earth as a life supporting system.
  • Gain insight into how we use science and technology in our lives.
  • Give opportunity to take advantage of the teachable moment, address multiple intelligences and an emergent curriculum.
  • Gardens are significant for its ethnic heritage associations and its associations with community growth and identity.
  • Learn first hand how energy from the sun helps to grow the food we eat.
  • Spiritual renewal
  • Gives back beneficial and sustainable byproducts.
  • Teaches about climate zones.
  • Contributes toward a sustainable culture.
  • Plays an important role in creating an ecologically sustainable educational system within an ecologically sustainable environment.
  • Perfect place for service learning projects and teaches stewardship, grace and empowerment.
  • Contributes to the vision for a healthier more active community.
  • Caring for life helps children develop their knowledge and understanding of life and a reverence and respect for life. Children develop more nurturing attitudes.
  • Children are natural explorers and delight in and are inspired by the outdoors.
  • A more stimulating environment than the outdoors for the development of the mind, body, senses and the spirit doesn’t exist.
  • Gardens have the power to heal.
  • Helps build a movement of educational and environmental change that is rooted in love and respect for the interconnectedness of all of life.
  • Nurtures the child’s imagination and curiosity.
  • Enhances moral education and socialization skills.
  • Reduces stress and enhances mental health.
  • Encourages self-discovery and the sharing of individual perceptions.
  • Broadens one’s views and knowledge of nature, community, and themselves.
  • Helps children understand the value of our natural resources.
  • Develops a students understanding of natural systems in their community.
  • Foods give us a window on cultural understanding and appreciation.
  • Gardens are ideal vehicles for introducing the elements of multicultural education.
  • Contributes toward a sustainable culture.
  • Foster a greater awareness of and appreciation for how food is grown.
  • Impact on cultural literacy, and encourages the implementation of environmental initiatives.
  • Increases the opportunities for education and cultural exchange.
  • Opportunities for the child to discover abound.
  • Horticulture is a profession deeply rooted in community involvement and active based living.
  • Many disciplines can be taught in a garden: language, science, creative arts, history, math, nutrition, life skills, ecology, and conservation.

Gardening Meets Special Needs

“Over and over we’ve found that kids who have been labeled behaviorally disturbed, learning impaired, and so on, make great strides in our garden program. When they have an opportunity to create a garden, become ‘experts,’ and share their expertise with others (often in a role reversal), their skills and confidence soar.”

— Karen Williger, New Orleans, LA

“A season after initiating a therapeutic garden for adolescents, I was floored by their enthusiasm and ability to focus on tasks. It was also amazing to see how fast group cohesion, trust, and self-esteem grew.”

— Amy Stein, Yardley, PA

Why Teach Outside?

PLT is a great organization with wonderful programs. You should schedule them to come to your school and reap the benefits of their knowledge, wisdom, and resources. I hope this article taken from PLT encourages you to teach outside every opportunity you have. After all, it is our home, and kids love to be outdoors.

WHY TEACH OUTSIDE?

Project Learning Tree

Quick—what’s your favorite Project Learning Tree activity? Now think again. Where do you do it?

If you answered “indoors,” reflect… could you have done it outdoors? Even reading a story, like “In the Forest of S.T. Shrew” found in PLT’s Activity Guide8, takes on many added dimensions, if simply read outdoors.

We teach indoors for lots of reasons. After all, someone built us a building. Indoors feels secure. There are four walls and a ceiling. It never rains, snows, or darkens, and it’s always a comfortable temperature. We have desks, pencils, Smart Boards, and electrical outlets. However, it can deprive us of stimulation.

Why Teach Outside?

Intellectually, we’re aware of benefits of learning outside the four walls of the classroom. A growing body of research reveals the significance of early experiences with nature as an important factor in developing environmental awareness (Taylor and Kuo, 2006; Orr, 2004). A quick glance at the voluminous research abstracts listed on the Children and Nature network reveals several research studies that glow about how nature, hands-on learning, and authentic experiences can:

  • Improve test scores, attendance, attitude toward learning
  • Positively affect a child’s physical, social, interpersonal, and aesthetic development
  • Alleviate symptoms of ADHD and ADD
  • Help ELL learners learn new vocabulary
  • Improve child health
  • Allow children who learn differently from others to become leaders and shine

With benefits like these, teaching outside should be a “no-brainer.” Yet most teachers don’t go outside with their students. Why?

Barriers to Teaching Outside

Cynthia C. Gardner from Lander University in South Carolina wrote a paper called “Why Some Teachers are not using the Schoolyard Environment.” (For a copy, contact cgardner@lander.edu.) She had taught at a South Carolina school that had three beautiful designated outdoor teaching areas (a pine forest, a pond, and a wetland), yet observed very few teachers using those spaces. To find out why, Gardner distributed 50 surveys to teachers of kindergarten through grade 5. She received 35 responses. A quick summary of the results:

  • Sixty-six percent (23 teachers) never used the pond area; 37% (13 teachers) never used the pine forest; and 40% (14 teachers) never used the wetland.
  • Most used the outdoor areas 1-5 times a year. Only one teacher used it 6-10 times a year.
  • Reported levels of comfort teaching outdoors: low 31% (11 teachers); medium 40% (14 teachers), high 29% (10 teachers)
  • Perception of importance of adding the natural areas into the curriculum: Not or somewhat important: 60% (21 teachers); important or very important: 40% (14 teachers)

Teachers were also asked to identify barriers to teaching outside. The barriers fell into five categories:

  • curriculum standards,
  • daily schedule,
  • supervision of children,
  • hazards, and
  • lack of knowledge.

Only the K-2 teachers cited “supervision of children” and “natural hazards” as barriers. Only grade 3-5 teachers cited “lack of knowledge.” Teachers from all grade levels cited the curriculum standards and the daily schedule.

While Gardner’s study focuses only on one school in South Carolina, I suspect her results are pretty similar elsewhere. I’ve worked with hundreds of teachers over the years. I’ve heard lots of excuses, concerns, and barriers to going outside. I could add a few more barriers to Gardner’s list:

  • kids aren’t properly dressed for the weather,
  • we “don’t have nature,” and
  • the teachers simply don’t like nature/cold/wet/wind/sun/snow/ticks/etc.
  • student-sitting-against-tree-in-snow-writing-poetry

Attend a PLT workshop and become comfortable teaching outdoors – in urban, suburban, and rural environments.

I know which teachers consistently take their students outside to learn, and have heard testimonials on the benefits of nature in academic settings.  Find a mentor at a local nature center, through your state environmental education organization, or contact your state PLT program coordinator for help. Check out the many useful Appendices in PLT’s Envrironmental Experiences for Early Childhood guide, for example “Playing It Safe Outdoors”, “Taking Neighborhood Walks”, “Setting Up an Outdoor Classroom”, “Encouraging Unstructured Outdoor Play”, and more.