Brittany Williamson

I think it’s safe to say we all suffer from Nature-Deficit Disorder (NDD). You won’t find this disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (yet), but its effects can surely be observed if you look closely enough. Thankfully, we don’t have to look too far to find a solution – teaching outside!

The amount of time we spend indoors, in front of screens and whiteboards, and among stale air is actually detrimental to our physical and mental health and for the purposes of this post, the minds of our students. Incorporating outdoor adventures into your curriculum offers students unique opportunities to excel both academically and socially. Experts say that teaching classes outside of the classroom not only makes our students happier but also improves their motivation, memory, health, behavior, social skills, and grades. It’s hard to pass up those benefits and not as “idealistic and impractical” as you may think.

Let’s explore 8 ways to take your classes outside the classroom into the great outdoors and treat NDD!

1. Take Story Time Outside

Before your students sit down, have them take their shoes off and walk barefoot for a minute or two. Walking barefoot on grass reduces stress and removes negativity. Earth’s electrons transfer to the body and your students’ negative ones are in turn absorbed and neutralized, leaving their minds open for imagination and retention as they travel through the pages of the book.

2. Spice Up Geometry

Take your students outside and let them identify geometric shapes and measure angles around the school. Have them sketch their discoveries and label them accordingly.

3. Start a Garden Patch

Partner with a local nature or gardening club to get started! Teach kids the biology and life cycle of plants or how to advocate for a greener planet.

4. Take a Brain Break

Taking a moment to relax will enhance social development, listening skills, and mindfulness. Have partners sit back to back blindfolded. Have them listen silently to the environment around them for 3 minutes and then allow them to take turns sharing  what they heard and experienced with their partner.

5. Explain Compass Directions

Teach your students the cardinal directions and how to use them. Divide them into groups and have each group walk to a point within eyesight (and school boundaries) and chalk the correct compass direction – N, S, E, or W – onto the ground. Have your students note what they see in each direction. For example, “When I look to the north, I can see a large oak tree.” Make the activity more difficult by adding in the other four directions – NE, SE, SW, and NW – and ask them to estimate or measure the distance between where they are standing and what they can see.

6. Incorporate Positional Language in a Journal Entry

Have your children sit and observe an ant, caterpillar, bird, or butterfly and have them write a story about its travels. Make sure to instruct them to use their positional words.

7. Bring History to Life

Take to the football field to recreate famous Roman or Greek military formations and use commands such as, “Turn 90 degrees to the right,” to top it off with a little math challenge. Lead a lesson or have students present their projects on Greek philosophers under the shade of a tree.

8. Get Messy with Science Experiments

My favorite physics class consisted of a box of toothpicks, hot glue, and an egg. Challenge your students to try this classic egg drop experiment. In this competition, they will build a protective harness that can successfully absorb the impact of a falling egg. Extra credit for all those who can keep Humpty Dumpty together.

A lot of teachers are hesitant to venture beyond the classroom in fear that they will lose the attention and focus of their students for the remainder of the day. However, a new study out of the University of Illinois proved the opposite to be true. Results showed that when the students received outdoor lessons, they were significantly more engaged in their next instructional period on all measures than when they received back-to-back lessons indoors.  

Children thrive in nature. They’re starved for it. So, give it a shot. Add the restorative power of nature to your teaching arsenal!

Brittany Williamson is a Mental Health Counselor at Florida Children’s Institute based in Jacksonville, Florida. She works closely with children and their families taking a Cognitive-Behavioral approach and is passionate about building emotional intelligence and teaching coping skills that will promote resilience throughout her client’s lives. She is also a certified yoga instructor who uses that knowledge to treat anxiety and depression and to model self-care within her practice. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, staying active, traveling, and spending time with her family and beloved yellow Lab, Reagan.

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