I am so happy more schools are developing outdoor classrooms or nature filled school green spaces, and I am happy to have designed a few. Here is wonderful video associated with the book The Nature Principle by Richard Louv, summarizing why living, playing, learning in nature is so important, especially for children.
I believe a nature filled school green space or outdoor classroom can merge all the benefits of being outside in nature with unstructured play and learning. Once created, an outdoor classroom is successful if:
- actively used for learning and playtime. Exploration, quite time and meditation are other great uses.
- a plan and execution for long-term stewardship (maintenance) exist,
- and the local community including the school district officials, teachers, school’s landscape crews, parents, garden clubs and local residents and businesses, all understand it’s value and provide support, both short and long term.
Not only will the students benefit greatly from an Outdoor Classroom, but the benefits will also weave into the community. This is truly a win-win for all! To understand the importance of this, please refer to this Children and Nature Benefits article link.
I’ve included a list of Internet resources below for outdoor classrooms for those interested in learning more, but there are also books covering this topic. Here are just a few:
Openlands Resource Page: Openlands works with the Chicago Public Schools, The Chicago Botanic Garden, Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, and The Kitchen for the “The Green Teachers Nework”. They offer some excellent teacher workshops at The Chicago Botanic Garden.
Mighty Acorns Program – incorporates classroom curriculum, hands-on restoration activities and exploration. The Conservation Foundation is one organization that delivers the Mighty Acorn Program to middle schools, but the Mighty Acorn program also works directly with teachers to help them introduce nature and conservation to fourth-sixth graders.
Project Learning Tree: environmental education program for teachers, parents and other educators. They offer online educational materials, grants, local workshops, and newsletter. See “Illinois training” for a list of workshops offered locally.
Scarce Environmental Education – located in Glen Ellyn, this organization offers several environmental programs and workshops for teachers and schools.
Fermilab’s Activities, Resources, and Classes for Students has some resources that are useful to teachers and parents.
Nature Explore is a network of resources, workshops and information for outdoor classrooms throughout the U.S. , including Illinois.
Illinois Department of Nature Resource Kids and Education: This website has educational materials for classroom use, grant list, and other useful information.
Greening Schools: Illinois’ EPA website that is no longer funded but still has some educational materials and resource list.
Green Teachers Network: A not for profit helping educators everywhere promote the environmental. Email newsletters and webinars are free, but there is a subscribtion cost for their quarterly magazine which has a wealth of additional information. They also have book resources. You can downlowd a free sample fo their magazine here: http://greenteacher.com/magazine/gt93/
Cornells’ Bird Sleuth for grades K-12: Creating and learning about birds and habitat for birds in our schools.
Classroom in Nature is resource for developing, using, maintaining and educating others about the benefits of Outdoor Classrooms.
Guidelines and Features for Outdoor Classrooms – this is a good reference for organizing, maintenance, fund-raising, features to put in an outdoor classroom, plus a list of other resources.