This column often talks about the importance of questioning, and how the process of learning how to question and improving questioning can have a direct impact on engagement, learning, communication skills, language and respect. There are ways of deepening this engagement that are as simple as paying attention to the stories that are in the news, and taking children outside.
The news has recently been filled with stories about Extinction Rebellion and the impact that the voice of the young can have, such as Greta Thunberg and her call for young people to protest inaction on climate change. Children hear about these things and it’s important to integrate some of the big questions of our time into day to day teaching.
The topic of climate change can brought into any subject with one of the most important questions that exists: why? Why should we care, why does it matter to me, my family, my country? Whether you’re looking at language, geography, history, culture, maths there are always questions about climate change and sustainability to be explored. Such a big topic can be brought down into the realm of the immediate by simply bringing children out into the natural world.
Teaching children outside (weather permitting of course) is an important thing to do for the most surprising of reasons. While obviously children enjoy a change of pace, there may be concerns that it will be distracting and that children will find it hard to settle later. Recent research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, however, shows not only how lessons outside increase enjoyment and engagement, but also shows how children’s engagement and focus continues even when their classes resume back inside.
Spending time in nature boosts children’s academic achievement and healthy development, concludes the new analysis which examined hundreds of different studies. Ming Kuo, associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois and her University of Minnesota co-authors found that nature boosts learning in eight distinct ways.
“We found strong evidence that time in nature has a rejuvenating effect on attention; relieves stress; boosts self-discipline; increases physical activity and fitness; and promotes student self-motivation, enjoyment, and engagement,” Kuo said. “And all of these have been shown to improve learning.”
These effects extend beyond academic achievement, according to the review. Time in nature appears to foster personal skills and qualities important for future success, and may play a critical role in helping children grow up to be environmental stewards.
“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,” Kuo says. “The bigger the dose of nature we give a person, the bigger the effect we see in them.”
This article first appeared in the May edition of Education Today.