Elementary Students in Michigan Going ‘Into the Woods’ for Outdoor-Classroom Learning

In today’s world most of our youth are disconnected from the natural world. Video games, iPod’s and computers take up most of their time. According to the No Child Left Inside Coalition, children ages 6 to 11 spend 30 hours a week looking at a TV or computer monitor. Experts across disciplines are beginning to correlate the lack of children spending time in nature to childhood obesity, attention deficit disorders and depression. The fact remains, that if we do not begin engaging our youth in stewardship education and activities they will lack the knowledge and desire to manage our natural resources in the future.

Learning outdoors is becoming more and more popular in our increasingly fast paced society. Environmentalists would argue that exposing our youth to nature is vital to their health and well-being. Learning outdoors boasts other benefits too, such as increasing the students understanding of how humans are connected to other living things. As the world becomes more urbanized, it is important for our youth to make these connections and develop a sense of belonging and adopt environmental stewardship practices. Outdoor education may be one of the most powerful tools educators can use to inspire the next generation to care about our natural resources and to become better stewards of our land.

Northview Public Schools in Grand Rapids, MI recently opened a new field school. Students in multi-age classrooms – kindergarten and first grades, and second and third grades — spend much of their day outside learning. Science, math, reading and social studies are integrated into students’ daily exploration through interesting, inquiry-based, hands-on activities.

Photo credit: Neil Blake | MLive.com

Teacher Jenna Rykse said “the number one benefit to our students is the amount of time we spend outside.” The students spend nearly 3.5 hours in the outdoor classroom setting each school day. Rykse claims, “learning is more fun and engaging for them. There is so much research that outdoor education and play supports the emotional, social and mental health of students.”

The school currently has 43 students enrolled in the environment based education program. The teachers really like this type of program because it allows kids to interact with nature in a way that you don’t get to in a normal school.

The program is intended to strengthen student’s mastery of all core subject knowledge while also encouraging curiosity, stewardship, community, leadership and adventure.

“It’s our responsibility as educators to help our students grow as young learners, and one way we can do that is by giving them the information and tools to view the world in new and different ways,” Northview Superintendent Scott Korpak said when the program was first announced.

“Field School gives students a chance to learn more about the environment, from the importance of our natural resources, to how we use those resources to decrease our environmental footprint.”

These type of programs are providing children with a chance to explore the world around them, which is good for their mind, body and soul.

So far, Northview Public School is getting positive feedback on their field school program from the parents and their students.

To read more about this new field school, click here.

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