Nature and School Readiness

By Ann Shult, NIU STEAM Educator

The beginning of the school year is usually a mix of excitement and apprehension with new clothes, new teachers, new schedule, and maybe some new friends or a new school. For some students and teachers, this will be the first time back in a classroom in over a year. The anxiety levels just went up. What can we as parents and teachers do to help both ourselves and the children in our lives reduce levels of anxiety and discomfort?

For me, the answer starts with one simple act: Go outside!

How can the outdoors help both our health and academic performance?

Health Benefits. Being in nature can help:

Academics Benefits. Being in nature can help:

Amy Doll is the director of Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves. Here’s how being outdoors benefits her family.

“I have two boys and there is nothing more important to our school year routine than getting outside every day, even in winter. And at least once a month we try to go explore somewhere outside for a little bit longer. I can see a difference in them when we get back – they have better attitudes, they are less anxious, and they are more talkative – with me and with each other. It’s almost as if when we leave the walls and roof of our house they are reminded that the world is bigger than their individual anxieties and their minds expand accordingly. I can tell that they need this to be ready to learn at school.”

What can you do to get outdoors?

It doesn’t need to be complicated! Try these activities, which can take as little as 15 minutes a day:

Ready for something more? How about:

I knew an elementary school teacher who encouraged her students to gather materials they found on the school grounds and put everything in a box. The next day during recess, she presented her students with two boxes, one full of purchased toys and the other with the materials found outdoors. It was filled with twigs, leaves, pinecones, rocks and other things found in nature. While observing her students, she noticed almost all of them selected items from the nature box. Creativity exploded when the students took those objects to make up stories, design birthday cakes and build other structures. The toy box sat mainly untouched.

Exploring the outdoors is a wonderful way to ease the transition as we prepare for a new year of learning.