8 Ways Teaching in Nature Improves Learning

We’ve shared the importance of kids being outdoors before, but new research from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign identifies eight ways that incorporating nature-based instruction into kids’ daily school activities promotes better learning. The researchers were skeptical that nature-based teaching would be more effective than traditional teaching methods, so they were surprised at the convincing picture presented by the data.

Here are the eight ways research demonstrated that contact with nature can improve learning:

  1. Nature has rejuvenating effects on attention.
  2. Nature relieves stress.
  3. Contact with nature (and animals) boosts self-discipline.
  4. Student motivation, enjoyment, and engagement are better in natural settings.
  5. Time outdoors is tied to higher levels of physical activity and fitness.
  6. Nature may boost learning by providing a more supportive context for learning.
  7. Vegetated settings tend to produce calmer, quieter, safer contexts for learning.
  8. Natural settings seem to foster warmer, more cooperative relations.

How can your child’s school incorporate nature into the classroom? The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has two grants:

In addition, the 2019 Illinois PTA Convention in Champaign on May 3-4 will feature a workshop, Growing Opportunities: Team Building and Experiential Learning in School Gardens. The workshop will cover how to build, maintain, and teach with a school garden. Don’t miss out, register today.

Photo courtesy of the US Air Force by Melissa Peterson.

Earth Day 2019 Clean Up

120421-N-ZI955-081 MISAWA, Japan (April 21, 2012) Chief Yeoman Ken Vinoya, center, helps gather trash at the Misawa Fish Port. Misawa Air Base service members and family took part in an Earth Day cleanup in the local community, and helped remove several tons of refuse. (U.S. Navy Photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Daniel Sanford/Released)

During the month of April, Earth Day Network is helping to coordinate events to clean up green spaces, urban landscapes, and waterways. Your PTA can organize a clean up event for your school’s grounds or a nearby park, or you can join an existing clean up event. If doing your own event, don’t forget to take before and after pictures and share them with the #TrashTaghashtag.

To organize your clean up event, make sure you take the following steps:

  1. Pick a location.This can be your school grounds, a nearby park, or other green space.
  2. Get permission.If cleaning up the school grounds, talk with your principal. For other locations, get permission from the organization responsible for that property (e.g., the park district).
  3. Set a date.Earth Day is April 22nd(a Monday this year), so consider a day the weekend before or after. Don’t forget to set a rain date.
  4. Publicize your event.Consider using MemberHub sign-ups so you know who is coming and have a way to quickly get out the word on a rainout and send reminders about what to bring.
  5. Ask for donations.Local hardware stores may be willing to donate garbage bags or gloves. A local restaurant may donate bagels, coffee, and juice for a morning event or snacks for an afternoon event. A waste hauling company or your city public works might be willing to swing by at the end of your event to pick up the collected trash.
  6. Make sure everyone knows the rules.This is a bit more complicated when kids are involved because waste pick up can involve heavy items; sharp items like broken glass, jagged metal, or needles; and potentially hazardous items. Because of the potential dangers, everyone should wear heavy gloves when picking up trash. Every child should be accompanied by an adult, preferably a family member. Children should not touch anything potentially dangerous and simply call an adult over. Have several adults remove heavy objects together.
  7. Share your work.Be sure to take lots of before and after pictures and share them with the #TrashTag
  8. Show your appreciation.Give a big thanks to your participants. Highlight things like how many people helped with the clean up and how many bags of trash were picked up. Share that information with all of your PTA members, and don’t forget to thank businesses that donated items for their support.

Photo courtesy of the US Navyby Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Daniel Sanford.

The 5Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle

Remember the Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle campaign? The new year is a great time to expand your sustainability mindset and move to the 5Rs: Refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle.

The first addition of refuse (just say, “No, thank you.”) can go a long way in preserving the environment. Many teachers and families use the new year to minimize clutter in the classroom and at home, and the first in the 5Rs is a great way to help clear out the clutter. We can opt out of accepting more stuff by simply saying “no, thanks” and refusing some of the many, many items that come into our schools and homes.

For example, when you’re planning a PTA event, consider NOT buying new supplies or only buying items that can be used more than once. When shopping at a store, instead of having your purchases bagged in single-use plastic bags, say “no, thanks” and use your reusable bags. Many times we don’t even need a bag for small purchases, so it’s easy to just say “no thanks” when we have the option.

Consider other points when you have the opportunity to refuse:

  • Say “no, thanks” to the plastic, single-use straws at your favorite restaurant and opt for a reusable straw (available at many retailers)
  • Say “no, thanks” to the piles of paper and opt for online communications instead
  • Say “no, thanks” to the toys that fast-food restaurants pass out with kids’ meals
  • Say “no, thanks” to junk mail by opting out of retailers’ mailings

Repurpose is another addition to the original 3Rs and can be a lot of fun for creative teachers and families. Repurposing takes items that might be manufactured for just one purpose and then finds a new purpose for the same item. For example, when you buy onions, they often come in plastic mesh bags, so when you’ve used all the onions, you can repurpose the mesh bag as a scrub for washing pots and pans.

Packaging and wrapping paper from all those holiday gifts can be repurposed to make cute organizers for our storage needs. Popular organizing methods such as the Marie Kondo movement and Marla Cilley’s (AKA The Flylady) home, health, and life organization approach can provide more tips on organizing and repurposing items to help you stay organized.

Think about how repurposing some so-called disposable items can make for super cool class projects and home crafts. Here are 10 ideas to get you started(including several good Mother’s Day gift projects for teachers to use in the classroom).

Learn more about the the 5Rs from the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center and from the Greening of Westford so you can instill a sustainability mindset in 2019.

End-of-Summer Activities

If you’re hoping to catch the last of summer’s sun and fun, there’s still time to celebrate the season (while avoiding those back-to-school displays at your favorite retailers).

Teachers and parents alike will want to check out the Every Kid in a Park program from the National Park Service.  Every 4thgrader in the United States receives a free parks pass just for completing an online game, and the pass gives that child a free pass into all the national parks, monuments, historic sites, and heritage trails.  The pass is good September 1 of the fourth grade year and runs until August 31st of the following year (just before fifth grade). It’s not too late to get the pass if your child is entering the 5th grade because you’ll still have full use until the end of August.

There are also great resources for teachers to use in the classroom and for field trips. Teachers, parents, and students can use the website to find their nearest national park, and there are parks, monuments, historic sites, and heritage trails scattered all across the state and our boarder states.  Teachers will appreciate the lesson plans and activities, while parents will love the chance to play with their kiddos in the great outdoors.

Richard Louv’s Children & Nature Networkis a worldwide effort to get kids back into nature and avoid what he refers to as “nature deficit disorder.” Cultivating a sustainability mindset in children occurs most often when the adults in their lives model environmental stewardship in big and small ways.  Recycling is one activity to cultivate at home, and taking our children into natural settings is a deeper experience for families.  The Children & Nature Network is made up of many different families who organize regularly scheduled hikes and play dates for families to attend, often at no cost.  Check out the site to find your local events or to start your own!  There are lots of groups around the world. Teachers will also appreciate the Natural Teachers Network resources.

Finally, don’t forget to check in with your local park district in these last weeks of summer. Many offer activities at little to no cost for local residents.  Start your online search for local parks at your city’s website or call your local city hall.