For many decades, I was blessed with the opportunity to take large groups of “city” fifth graders on a 3-day camping experience in central Wisconsin. Some of my favorite kid comments included, “I never knew there were so many trees, (or stars), (or bugs), (or birds)…” and “Wow! Look at all those different kinds of dirt...” and, more recently, “I don’t even miss my tablet/cell phone/TV…”
At camp, I was able to experience first-hand the myriad of gifts and talents in children that we don’t always get to see in a classroom -- for example, I noted who could efficiently bait a hook and effortlessly teach others, who could problem-solve and lead in a ropes challenge, who had outdoor knowledge/experience, who could comfort another homesick student late at night, who could learn new and difficult skills without getting frustrated early on, or who could sit silently and simply wonder at the beauty of nature.
Most of all, however, I got to watch the great outdoors consistently work its tremendous and inexplicable magic on children.
As spring and summer unfold here in Wisconsin, it was with great delight that I came across this article in The London Economic, Outdoor Learning Really Does Boost Children's Academic Performance and Development, which furnished some research that supports my intuition about the huge benefits of outdoor education.
According to lead author Professor Ming Kuo of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at Illinois University, “It’s time to take nature seriously as a resource for learning.” After examining data from literally hundreds of studies, Prof Kuo’s team found that being in nature boosts learning in eight distinct ways. “We found strong evidence time and time again that nature has a rejuvenating effect on attention; it relieves stress, boosts self-discipline, increases physical activity and fitness, and promotes student self-motivation, enjoyment, and engagement. All of these have been shown to improve learning,” Professor Kuo reported.
Furthermore, Kuo continued, “Until recently, claims outstripped evidence on this question. But the field has matured, not only substantiating previously unwarranted claims, but deepening our understanding of the cause-and-effect relationship between nature and learning. Hundreds of studies now bear on this question, and converging evidence strongly suggests that experiences of nature boost academic learning, personal development, and environmental stewardship. Similarly, over fifty studies point to nature playing a key role in the development of pro-environmental behaviour, particularly by fostering an emotional connection to nature. In academic contexts, nature-based instruction outperforms traditional instruction...the evidence here is particularly strong – from experiments evidence to standardised test scores and graduation rates.”
The research indicated that even small doses of nature can produce gains in academic success and personal development, and suggested that school grounds have more green spaces with lawns, shrubs, and trees, community gardens, and outdoor learning areas, which can all have an impact on students and their academic success.
Co-author of the article, Prof Catherine Jordan of Minnesota University, wrote, “Report after report – from independent observers as well as participants themselves – indicate beneficial shifts in perseverance, problem solving, critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, and resilience. All of these line up with skills we know are important for kids’ ability to thrive in the 21st century.”
Finally, Prof Kuo concluded, “Even small exposures to nature are beneficial. If you’re indoors, having a view of your yard as opposed to facing the wall, that makes a difference. At the same time, more is better. That’s one of the things that gives us more confidence that we’re seeing a real cause-and-effect relationship. The bigger the dose of nature we give a person, the bigger the effect we see in them.”
With all of the wonderfully supportive research in mind, it’s time to get outdoors! Arm yourselves with some great nature guides, slather on some sunscreen, and douse yourself with bug spray. Grab your water bottles, and embark on some great nature adventures with your friends and family.
And take a moment to think to yourself, “What a wonderful world!” 🎶🎶🎶
Jacquelyn Drummer, Past President, WATG
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.