The Science Behind Outdoor Classrooms

The great outdoors provide a beneficial learning environment for children, and various local programs give them the chance to explore the natural world.

Forest bathing, a healing practice developed in Japan that involves immersing yourself in the natural environment, taking in the sights, smells, and textures of the forest surroundings, made the news recently. It’s becoming popular here, and with good reason—there’s oodles of research showing the benefits of time spent in nature, also called green therapy.

Some scientists believe that trees give off a compound called phytoncides which have a positive physiological effect. Others conjecture that humans have an instinctual evolutionary memory of a connection to nature. Either way, nature is restorative.

Illustration by Marco Goran Romano

In fact, the greater a child’s access to nature, including large windows with a natural view, the greater the academic success. The greener a child’s environment, the less severe his/her ADHD symptoms will be. Nature reduces stress hormones, heart rate, muscle tension, and impulsivity. It also elevates immune response, cognition, focus, mood, and peacefulness.

Green Therapy for Your Kids
It’s no wonder outdoor nature preschools have sprung up around the area. They’ve grown from an understanding that, “if children have great experiences out in nature, they tend to grow up and love the natural world,” says Tisha Luthy, director of the Nature Preschool at Cincinnati Nature Center. Kids want to be outside, exploring and investigating, so “that intrinsic motivation to learn is there,” Luthy adds. Nature provides teachable moments, like the day they found hundreds of snails on the trail; instructors guided the kids to group-count a whopping 256.

For a mini dose of nature, check out your local park district’s programs, like Five Rivers MetroParks’ “Forest of Leaves” and “Nocturnal Adventure,” and Great Parks of Hamilton County’s “Little Tykes Nature Bash” and “Forest Bathing” (yes, your kids can take part in this therapeutic exercise, too).   

You don’t even need a program to learn through nature. Plant a garden. Give your child a natural window view during homework. Take a walk in the woods. And adopt this mantra: Go outside and play!

Check out these nature preschools. Cincinnati: Little Schoolhouse in the Woods, Heartwood Forest, CNC Nature Preschool; Dayton: Learning Tree Farm, Aullwood Nature Center and Farm Preschool; Ft. Thomas: Natural Start

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