Nature Connections

Taking children outside for learning has an infinite number of benefits for both the individual, the social group and the wider global context. Learning becomes more authentic and meaningful by utilising local settings, whether that be a school garden, adjacent creek area or park. Students have opportunities to learn in different ways and develop self regulation. The benefits of fresh air and movement provides natural endorphins, decreasing anxiety and depression.

However, we see the hazards of keeping children inside are many and varied, with detrimental effects for both the individual and ultimately our planetary future. Staying in a temperature controlled environment can lead to an increased risk of respiratory illness and reduced natural endorphins leading to disruptive behaviour, increased anxiety and depression. Sitting at a desk for extended periods can lead to reduced cardiovascular, muscular and skeletal health. As well as reduced coordination and kinaesthetic awareness, leading to heightened risk of injury. Prolonged use of digital devices can cause vision issues, reduced social skills, anxiety and depression. 

So, don’t delay, it’s time to ‘Take Me Outside’!

Planning your outdoor learning project

Taking students outside for learning can be done on a daily basis as part of any lesson, it might be measuring for maths or journalling for english. You could also choose to design a cross-curricula learning project that builds students connection to place. 

Steps for planning your outdoor learning project

  1. Decide on the focus, you may like to explore a local issue or a topic of interest, something that will connect students to place.
  2. Brainstorm questions that will guide your outdoor learning project: What do you know? What do you want to know? How will you find out?
  3. Identify the syllabus outcomes that will be addressed
  4. Plan the learning and teaching activities based on prior knowledge, that are sequenced appropriately, use available resources (places, people, opportunities) and are adapted to meet the interests, abilities and backgrounds of students
  5. Decide on appropriate assessment activities - for primary students it is important that these are embedded, for secondary students more clarified.
  6. Allow space for reflection and feedback- what worked well? What didn’t? How could this be improved for next time?

Jane from the Centre for Ecological Learning shares her practical tips for integrating outside learning 

  • Identify your local assets, actual and potential - what areas could you access nearby? What space on the school grounds could be developed or rejuvenated? Partner with others to help make happen; in your school, local community or other organisations
  • Investigate and connect with your student’s families and the local community - utilise the skills and knowledge in your community, this may be bird knowledge, preserving vegetables, cooking, gardening, bush regeneration.
  • Use local problems and issues as an opportunity for learning - depending on your location this could be water pollution, littering, pest plants or animals, locally endangered animals
  • Utilise citizen science opportunities and resources - for example the iNaturalist App, AUSMAP ocean plastics, Great Aussie Bird Count, of the Frog ID App. 

Teaching resources

Cool Australia outdoor learning resources: a collection of over 40 lesson plans including story trees, breathing circles, nature school incursions. 

Junior Landcare Learning Centre, learning activities aligned to the Australian curriculum to encourage investigating local biodiversity, learn about Indigenous culture and establishing habitat gardens

Environmental and Zoo Education Centres online teaching resources (Primary and Secondary): nature journalling, outdoor scavenger hunt, nature maps, wellbeing, outdoor learning pathways. 

Outdoor classroom Day Resources, outdoor learning lesson plans and resources sheets sourced from a broad range of experts and organisations, and designed to deliver the NSW curriculum, ready to download and use

Biodiversity teaching resources available via the Sustainable Schools NSW website, NSW Ecosystems on show, birds beaks and feathers, Investigate Bees 

Senses activities and games, Rumbalara Environmental Education Centre

Nature Journalling resources: How to teach nature journalling 

Citizen Science

Australian Citizen Science Project Finder is a place to discover and connect with citizen science projects in Australia.

Aussie Backyard Bird Count aims to engage school communities in the natural world while getting to know the birds in their local schoolyard through participation in a simple, fun, all-ages activity that can be done anywhere.

AUSMAP is a nationwide citizen science project mapping pollution hotspots around Australia and building a network of data collection to help save river systems and coastlines.

Frog ID is an Australian Museum citizen science project that is improving our understanding of Australia’s unique frog species.

iNaturalist is a great opportunity to record, share, discuss and contribute meaningful data of other living organisms as a citizen scientist to the Atlas of Living Australia. Also handy to help identify unknown species.

StreamWatch is now associated with the Greater Sydney Landcare Network. By engaging in the ecological investigation of local waterways, StreamWatch continues to act as an early warning system for pollution events, while the data provides a valuable record of waterway health. Contact your local Natural Resource Management Authority or Council to find out about water quality monitoring programs in your local area.

Waterwatch is a national citizen science program, involving landholders, community groups and schools, and aims to engage communities in monitoring and protecting the health of local waterways

Research

There is a growing body of research that identifies the benefits of enhancing children's connections with nature. Recent resources include: 

Child & Nature Research Library, Curated and summarised peer-reviewed scientific literature that makes the case for connecting children with nature, Children & Nature Network (USA). 

Learning through Landscapes, library of research that supports how enhanced outdoor learning and play benefits children and their environment

Benefits of connecting children with nature, NZ Department of Conservation 

Engaging children in nature: interviews with Richard Louv: A 5 part series, 5-8 mins each. Primary schools students Richard and Izzy ask Richard Louv about his ideas on nature education for young people and why he believes experiences with nature are good for us. NSW Department of Education. 

Urban Children's connection to nature (2021) researchers from University of Sydney. 

Every experience matters (2008) Dr Karen Malone, UK. 

Nature for health and wellbeing (2021) Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria 

Needing trees, the nature of happiness Planet Ark research about the value of nature and the multitude of benefits associated with green time. 

Beyond Blue to Green (2010)The benefits of contacts with nature for health and wellbeing, Deakin University & Beyond Blue

For a longer read, try Richard Louv, The Nature Principle (a powerful call to action— about adults and nature) & Last Child in the Woods (Lov’s first book, which coined the phrase ‘nature deficit disorder’), David Sobel: Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, Jon Young, Coytote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, Nikki Harre, Psychology for a Better World.

Risk

Challenge, risk, learning. 

Balancing risk and benefits in outdoor learning and play, Outdoor Classroom Day briefing for educators

Learning Outdoors, Benefits Risks, Nature Play SA & SA Department of Education & Child Development

Risk assessments:  UK organisation Learning through Landscapes provides a comprehensive range of examples of different risk assessments used in their outdoor learning programs. 

International School Grounds Alliance, Risk in play and learning

Outdoor risky play, chapter in Education in the Digital Age, Healthy and Happy Children, IUCN, 2020 report. 

Reboot, Reimagining physically active lives 2022 report card, Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance 

Some NSW guidelines

Natural Playspaces, Kidsafe NSW

Challenging Play, Kidsafe NSW 

Playing safe: guidelines for installation and maintenance of playing equipment in NSW government schools 

Inspiration

Learning through Landscapes, the UK’s leading outdoor learning and play charity, lots of ideas and inspiration.

The Wild Network Based in England but applicable to Australia this site provides innovation and inspiration for the rewilding of childhood, with lots of practical ideas and activities for learning

Blue Mountains City Council schools projects: Taking local kids outdoors, Project Plant It, Winmalee Connecting Kids with Nature

Nature School, Port Macquarie is an inspirational school whose motto is ‘A community where children learn and shine through authentic experiences in nature to become engaged global citizens’.