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The nature classroom is not a recent phenomenon, despite the recent explosion in popularity. Students, especially those in pursuit of scientific discoveries, have spent hours upon hours outdoors as part of their education. Now, however, more and more educators are asking what other benefits an outdoor classroom might have, aside from the obvious health benefits.
Why, I’m glad you asked.
The nature classroom improves imagination
A nature classroom takes the “less is more” approach. It refrains from spelling out an item’s purpose for a child. A child can see a painted, plastic toy car and know it’s intended to be pushed, pulled, or “driven” around the floor. In a natural classroom, a simple rock can transform into a nearly limitless number of items. By not providing toys or materials that dictate the way a child plays with them, children are essentially forced to use their imaginations. Who knows what stories or supposings a child will dream up that way? But speaking of stories…
Focus on narrative
Areas where people congregate are naturally inclined towards either conflict or cooperation. This was true of ancient riverbeds and remains true of a coveted swingset. Encourage your students to pay attention to their classmates while they’re outside, either in class or during recess. The social interplay could become the basis for a good writing prompt and story!
Depending on the age of your students, you could also consider having them write using chalk. This might not work for a high school student perfecting the five paragraph essay, but works marvelously for children learning to write letters and short words. Have fun decorating the sidewalks, driveways, or cement walls with language.
If your kids would like to see examples of narratives with a natural twist, why not read some of the greatest books about nature ever written?
STEM in the nature classroom
This is probably the most obvious improvement over a brick-and-mortar classroom. The opportunities for new STEM lessons that can stem from a classroom full of stems are numerous. (I know, I know. I crack myself up.)
When you’re outside, allow children to explore concepts like gravity, laws of motion, simple machines, and more. Make lesson plans that encourage them to make hypotheses, test theories, and come to conclusions, all using the materials and elements in the world around them.
So many children today, not just those with ADHD, struggle with maintaining focus. Chalk that up to our society’s increased screen time. But there’s still hope for improving the amount of time your children can focus and pay attention to a single task. The outdoors is a perfect testing ground for quiet observation and gradually increasing time focused on one thing.
Assign or let students choose areas of the outdoors to observe and report on at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, etc). Every time they go to make observations, try increasing the time by five minutes longer than their previous successful stretch.
So many students have kinesthetic/tactile learning styles, and so many teachers struggle to provide them with suitable learning opportunities. A nature classroom is a perfect way to get them excited about learning again. Feel free to let them touch bugs, collect leaves, measure distances, or climb trees. Whatever fits your subject!
I hope I’ve convinced you to turn in your hard plastic chairs for a collection of stumps and logs. If you need help with the particular elements you can use to make a nature classroom, be sure to check out our natural playground article with ideas!
For further reading on this topic:
- Educational Outdoor Activities (that you can try tomorrow!)
- 10 MORE Educational Outdoor Activities For Kids
- Amazing STEM Activities with Snow & Ice
- 50+ Books about Nature for Kids:
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.