The Out of Doors

Submitted by Jason DuBose on Thu, 2017-07-13 00:00

When considering the outdoors, it would be nearly impossible to underestimate its value to humans.  It's easy to contemplate the aesthetic and recreational value but there is so much more. We talked to a researcher today who was testing saliva to determine stress levels before and after spending time in nature. She said that stress was greatly reduced after spending just 20 minutes convening with nature.  As an English teacher, it would be easy to take students outside for literature circles or Socratic seminars and the benefits are undeniable. How could you get students outside more?


Denise Schwendener's picture

What an interesting study!  You mention easy ways to take the students outside.  We only have 45 minute periods, so I lose about 5 minutes of instruction taking the students in and out, but it's worth it.  In the spring, we head outside whenever possible to read or do experiments.  We also have reading time everyday for 15 miutes (so awesome), but maybe we should start reading outside a few times a week, especially in the spring and the fall.  A few years ago my coworker sent his enitre, unengaged first period outside and made them run/walk down the field and back.  Along with the outdoors and exercise, he said the students were quickly revived!  When they returned to class they were more involved. 

When I was working on my masters, there were several studies I read that researched the benefits of children playing in nature: fewer cases of ADHD, ADD, increased focus/stamina, more creativity.  There are really nothing, but positive effects from being outdoors.  I know for myself, I love and look forward to my early morning runs in the foothills.  Plus, my two boys could sit by the river and dig and throw rocks all day long.  They love it!  I think I just need to make a little sticky note, to remind myself to get my students outside.  Once the school year starts, it's easy for me to be overwhelmed by everything, that I forget to implement simple, yet very beneficial strategies that I've learned.  Thanks!

Angela Becker's picture

Hello Jason!

What a neat research project! Did she test you? I know that I certainly feel more relaxed/refreshed after spending time outside and the affect it has on my 3 & 5 year old children is undeniable! These hot days can make it unappealing to venture outdoors so I try to get out as soon as we're up to beat the heat. We pick raspberries in the garden, prune my plants, checkout the bugs and birds, and often head over to feed the fish. (You're visiting my home on Friday.)Then in the afternoon it's homemade popsicles and pool time. (It's just a baby pool so I have to count on splashes to keep me cool. After the kids are done, we use the pool water to water my flowers.

When it comes to getting my students outside, I certainly feel like the lucky one! I teach 7th grade Life Science and will also be teaching 8th grade Aquatic Ecology this year so finding a reason to be outside is easy. I am a big fan of all of the wonderful activities found in the PLT, Project WILD, and Project WET guides and I am always looking at places to use them in my units. Not only do the activities relate directly to the content I am teaching, most of them can be done outside!

When I teach genetics, I do a bird beak activity that shows how different beak shapes(forks, knives, spoons) are better suited to different environments. We conduct our trials in the grass and on the smooth concrete in the lab. In my unit in Ecology, we head out for an abiotic/biotic nature walk around our campus, conduct a carrying capacity activity when they are bears, they get to go through the carbon cycle as a carbon molecule, and see how toxins in the river affect osprey and bears. I also have them collect our dissection specimens from their homes when we do our flower dissection lab and seeds when we're studying seed dispersal. (They usually comeback with great stories of what else they discovered when out and about!) This year I am hoping that my Aquatic Ecology class will get to participate in some water sampling and tour the fish hatchery and adjacent fishing ponds. 


Rebecca Chavarria's picture

Absolutely yes to Socratic Seminars! One of my college classes was conducted that way and it was a very engaging and memorable experience. In a music setting, fire drills are a wonderful way to get the kids outside more. (And now for the serious answer) I could use the outdoors as a chance to teach students about sound travel and acoustics ("If you were assigned to gig outside, what kind of conditions are ideal/not ideal for the best sound resonance?"). To get the lessons closer to outside appreciation, I would adopt literature circles for maybe once-a-week lessons where we look at music literature or do music theory, and move outside just to get fresh air and sunshine. Courtyard practices on beautiful days would be fun too, and a welcomed change of pace. 

Bethany Updike's picture

I love the idea of literature circles and Socratic seminars outdoors!

One of my favorite days from last year was during a poetry unit when I took my students outside to write haiku poems. I had them take photos of things they thought were beautiful or interesting with their IPads. It was nice to see them get excited about taking pictures and finding things on our campus they found beautiful. They were proud of their photos and excited to write poems based on them. I also liked to see them taking some pride in their campus!

We also have a school garden, which is a great place for creative writing, especially when working on writing descriptive prose. 

Another fun lesson I've done is taking them for a walk around the building and having them write down the sounds they hear and using that as a way to introduce onomatopoeia.

As long as I set clear expectations for behavior and establish that we are going out to work, outdoor lessons usually go well and students are very engaged.