Here's a question: If 93% of US teachers express a desire to take lessons outdoors more, why are US students spending more time inside than ever before?
Becoming a trailblazer is usually rewarded in our society. But in the US educational system, there are many obstacles to going outside of the system. Even if teachers understand the benefits to students academically, socially and physically to be outdoors in nature during prime hours of the child's day, teachers need resources and support to make outdoor learning come to life.
For starters, the school environment needs access to nature. Your school doesn't need to have a full loose parts playground but the school grounds should have access to a variety of natural areas for nature play, gardening, nature journaling. It doesn't always have to be green either. Water features make great places to reflect on nature and logs to sit on are great places to be calm in nature.
Of course, teachers also need to be trained to use nature effectively, There are some fantastic programs available to train teachers in nature-based education. Many of these programs offer educators training in nature, place and inquiry-based educational approaches.
One of the crucial ingredients for bringing learning outdoors is a support network. And of the key members of the support network is a supportive principal who sees the value of time spent educating and playing outdoors. And of course, parents must support nature-based learning. That shouldn't be too hard. According to the Muddy Hands Report from the folks behind Outdoor Classroom Day, 94% of parents would like schools to help their kids get outside and discover nature.
Besides voicing their support of nature-based learning to teachers and administrators, parents can ensure that there's a dedicated portion of the school or PTO budget that helps fund nature-based learning or outdoor learning. A few ideas are to build a school-wide pollinator garden. Or to suggest funding a Nature-Based Library of books or nature tools as a class gifts at the end of the year. In addition, parents can help by making sure children are prepared to dress appropriately for the outdoors and by encouraging a connection to, and comfort with, nature through family activities in the outdoors.
For many schools, bringing nature-based learning in seems like a big endeavor but there are many organizations to support these efforts. And it can often take just one knowledgeable teacher to help pioneer nature-based instruction to serve as a liaison, model or guide.