Mongeau, L., 2016

SCHUTES NATIONAL FOREST, Ore. — It was early evening in late May. Dinner was done and caper crews of students — “caper” is camp-speak for “chore” — had stacked the firewood into wheelbarrows, swept the dining hall floor, and (eew!) cleaned the bathrooms. The fading spring light slanted through the trees as the girls from Dogwood Cabin headed back to their bunks to practice their end-of-week skit.

“It’s not that bad,” a counselor the campers called Ivy told the 11- and 12-year-olds, nervous about their upcoming acting debuts. “I remember doing it when I went to camp. It’s actually fun.”

“Ivy” is really Kelsee Morgan, 16, a junior in high school. Like every girl in her tent, she attends school in Crook County, Oregon. And, like every girl in her tent, she went to this camp in May of her sixth grade year.

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Healthy Schools Campaign, 2016

Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands are pleased to announce the release of Green Schoolyards: A Growing Movement Supporting Health, Education and Connection with Nature.

This new report documents the journeys and lessons of green schoolyard programs across the country and is informed by a rich dialogue that has been taking place at the national and local levels about how to help children, families, schools, communities and our environment thrive. It shares information and stories as well as tangible steps communities can take to develop their own green schoolyards.

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Travis R. Dunlap and Linda Lemasters.

Outdoor learning is a trending topic in education research, and the benefits of outdoor classrooms are increasingly viewed as indispensable. While it would seem that children in the 21st century spend less time outdoors than previous generations, researchers have reinvigorated conversation on the importance of our children’s relationship to natural environments. Exposure to the natural world is recognized increasingly as an integral component of students’ development and education, and outdoor classrooms are an instrumental way to foster the reconnection of students with nature.


Outdoor learning provides very positive outcomes in the cognitive, physical, and social development of students. Researchers have demonstrated numerous advantages for students’ learning experiences in natural environments. For example, children who have contact with nature tend to score higher on tests involving concentration and self-discipline.[1] A reverse correlation also exists: the lack of a connection to the outside may exacerbate Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in children.[2] Additionally, the physiological benefits of children’s involvement with nature cannot be ignored. For example, researchers have concluded that exposure to natural light reduces the risk of nearsightedness. Social and psychological benefits also are noted. As an example, when students play in a natural environment, their play is more imaginative, and these children show heightened language skills and greater ability for collaboration.[3] These are just a few of the many advantages of outdoor learning. Consequently, schools around the world are embracing the outdoor classroom model to maximize the related learning and behavior outcomes for students.

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[1] Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances E. Kuo, “Coping with ADD: The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings,” Environment and Behavior 33, no. 1 (2001): 54–77.

[2] Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, Updated and Expanded edition (Chapel Hill, N.C: Algonquin Books, 2008), 48.

[3] Robin C. Moore and Herb H. Wong, Natural Learning: The Life of an Environmental Schoolyard. Creating Environments for Rediscovering Nature’s Way of Teaching. (Berkeley, CA: MIG Communications, 1997); Ingunn Fjortoft, “The Natural Environment as a Playground for Children: The Impact of Outdoor Play Activities in Pre-Primary School Children,” Early Childhood Education Journal 29, no. 2 (January 2001): 111–17.


Dongying Li, William C. Sullivan.

Previous research has demonstrated positive associations between the greenness of high school land- scapes and school wide academic performance. We do not known, however, if green landscapes cause better performance or if the association between the two is a product of self-selection. If there is a causal relationship, the pathways through which green school landscapes affect student performance remain unclear. We hypothesize that views onto green landscapes help students recover from mental fatigue and stress. To test these hypotheses, we conducted a randomized controlled experiment with 94 high school students at five high schools. Participants were randomly assigned to classrooms without windows or with windows that opened onto a built space or a green space. Participants engaged in typical classroom activities followed by a break in the classroom to which they were assigned. Attentional functioning was measured using Digit Span Forward and Backwards. Physiological stress levels were measured by skin conductance, body temperature, pNN50 (the proportion of the number of pairs of successive NNs that differ by more than 50 ms divided by the total number of NNs) and LF/HF (the ratio between low- frequency peak and high frequency peak). Results demonstrate that classroom views to green landscapes cause significantly better performance on tests of attention and increase student’s recovery from stressful experiences. A lack of mediation effect demonstrates that attention restoration and stress recovery are two distinct processes. Implications for school site selection, design and renovation are discussed.

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By T. R. Dunlap

The topics of outdoor learning and outdoor classrooms are trending in education conversation and research. Recently, there have been many articles in education and scientific journals as well as in popular magazines and websites on the many reasons schools should embrace outdoor learning. Outdoor learning is increasingly viewed as a powerful way to engage students in the educational experience and to foster a greater appreciation for the natural world. Schools have implemented the development of outdoor classrooms as one approach to embrace outdoor learning for their students. Researchers, educators, administrators, and facility managers are looking into how outdoor classrooms could provide a positive impact on student success. Here are three good reasons why your school should consider investing in an outdoor learning program and the building of an outdoor classroom.

  1. Outdoor Learning Positively Affects Physical Health

The need for and benefits of outdoor learning are frequently discussed in light of perceived health crises among American children. Here are just two examples of physical benefits outdoor learning may offer student.

First, outdoor learning gets students moving. The USA has a gathering storm from the factors of childhood malnutrition, obesity, and lack of physical activity. The average American child spends as few as 30 minutes playing outdoors each day (National Wildlife Federation), and many believe that our children are more inactive and obese than in previous generations. We need to get kids moving! Outdoor learning is a great way to provide students opportunity to move and explore and, hopefully, become healthier.

Second, outdoor learning reconnects kids with the power of ‘solar energy’. The sun has always held benefits for human development and health—of course, one must consider the need for sunscreen and proper hydration for the students. We are all aware of the need for vitamin D, which the sun provides to us naturally. Students who are stuck indoors during the school day can miss out on this very needed health benefit. In addition, natural light can help our kids see well. The natural light one experiences outdoors reduces the risk of nearsightedness. When compared to the lighting of our inside environments, there’s nothing quite like light of the natural world (Nutt, 2014). Outdoor classrooms are one way to capitalize on the physical advantages of outdoor learning.

  1. There are Cognitive Benefits to Outdoor Learning

Recently, there have been a number of articles on how outdoor learning can make kids smarter, improve children’s memory and attention, and even help kids with autism. We now know that children’s awareness, reasoning, and observational skills are improved in their cognitive development with an increased exposure to nature (Pyle, 2002). The cognitive advantage of outdoor learning is seen in academic performance. For example, children who have increased contact with the outdoors score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline (Wells, 2000; Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2002). In an age of heightened pressure for student performance, why not consider using outdoor classrooms to bolster student learning and achievement?

  1. Outdoor Learning Helps the Socialization of Students

Finally, researchers have noted that outdoor learning leads to positive outcomes in students’ social development. Some have argued that nature stimulates social interaction between children much more than indoor learning environments (Bixler, Floyd, & Hammit, 2002). When learning outdoors, students work more collaboratively as they explore the natural world together. An outdoor classroom provides opportunities for students to interact and learn in new and different ways, and the social benefits should not be underestimated.

There are many other considerations that should be given to the implementation of outdoor learning programs in our schools, but the most obvious among them are the physical, cognitive, and social benefits of outdoor learning. As your school or district considers investing in or expanding an outdoor classroom, keep in mind the many advantages this type of education facility will have for your students.


T. R. Dunlap is a research assistant for George Washington University in the Education Facilities Clearinghouse. After having worked as a foreign language educator, he now researches topics relevant to education facilities and their improvements.


Bixler, R. D., Floyd, M. E. & Hammitt, W. E. (2002). Environmental socialization: Quantitative tests of the childhood play hypothesis. Environment and Behavior, 34(6), 795-818.

Ellis Nutt, A., ‘Go play outside, kids:’ Natural light reduces risk of nearsightedness in children, scientists say, (2014) The Washington Post Retrieved from

Lieberman G. A., & Hoody, L. L. (1998). Closing the achievement gap: Using the environment as an integrating context for learning. San Diego, Calif: State Education and Environment Roundtable.

National Wildlife Federation, Health benefits (n.d.) Retrieved from

Pyle, R. (2002). Eden in a vacant lot: Special places, species and kids in community of life. Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations. Kahn, P.H. and Kellert, S.R. (eds) Cambridge: MIT Press.

Taylor, A. F., Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2002). Views of nature and self-discipline: evidence from inner city children. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22, 49-63.

Wells, N. M. (2000). At home with nature, effects of "greenness" on children's cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795.



By Learning Through Landscapes.

Childhood has changed dramatically in recent decades. One of the most significant changes has been the decline of children’s playful and self-led exploration of the natural world. We’re realising that this ‘extinction of experience’ has negative impacts on children’s health and wellbeing. Putting this more positively, we’re beginning to understand the ways in which regular access to quality natural spaces can help address some of the most pressing challenges facing children today.

Good outdoor environments encourage children to be physically active and to develop physical skills and confidence. They can foster the development of collaboration, social skills, creativity and positive behaviour. Regular access to nature provides a refuge from bustle and hassle, helping to alleviate stress and support positive emotional wellbeing. Playful interaction with nature encourages an understanding of and appreciation for the natural world. Teachers are discovering that the outdoors is often a better place to learn than indoors, bringing learning to life and opening up opportunities that are simply unavailable in the classroom. And when children are closely involved in developing and looking after their outdoor environment, it helps to develop their sense of belonging, participation, respect and pride. Together, these factors can contribute positively and significantly to children’s physical and emotional health but they also encourage health promoting habits and attitudes that have
a lasting impact into adulthood.

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About a dozen elementary school students in pink leotards and butterfly wings pranced in front of Turner Elementary School as a crowd of a few hundred cheered them.

“They are so pretty,” said Lisaura Naverrete, a mother of three Turner students in the crowd, which was flanked by large dirt piles, wheelbarrows and dozens of shovels and pickaxes.

Gardening is a great way to get children to connect with nature and learn more about fresh fruits, vegetables and healthy eating. But that’s not all. These gardens also offer children the opportunity to experience hands-on lessons in science, math and language arts. Spring is the perfect time to start thinking about cultivating one of these living libraries, whether it’s a small herb garden on a windowsill, a community garden, or a larger garden at your child’s school. Gardens can promote your child’s learning, healthy eating habits, and appreciation for nature.

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YOUR SCHOOL GARDEN can be far more than a pretty place to grow flowers and vegetables.  Taking class outdoors for lessons and investigations will help your students apply academics to the real world, practice higher order thinking skills, and experience lesson content in a more engaging and hands-on way. Students simply love learning outside the walls of a classroom and learning gardens provide a natural instructional resource for teacher and student engagement.

To empower teachers in the United States to take their class outside more often, our non-profit has expert educators that work side-by-side with elementary teachers in school gardens, modeling how to introduce new objectives and reinforce mastery of challenging content.

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