Back to School: Back Outside

How Outdoor Education and Outdoor School Time Create High Performance Students

09-01-2010 // Kevin Coyle
Back to School: Back Outside report

Today’s indoor children are less physically fit, less able to concentrate and are less able to relate to peers and adults than any previous generation of children. And, they are less able to be effective in the classroom. One partial solution is to give them more time outdoors: playing and learning. The goal for the National Wildlife Federation's Be Out There campaign is for every child to have at least a daily “Green Hour” of outdoor time.

We see this as necessary for a child to be healthy, to care about nature and, increasingly, to obtain a good education. In the past, we might have thought of the Green Hour goal as being solely up to parents in a home setting. But we need to look at it more broadly today. Parents can and should facilitate their kids spending regular time outdoors, but schools will need to step up too. By doing so, schools will produce better educated students with stronger life skills.

Dowload the full report: Back to School: Back Outside (pdf)

The research in this report describes two key benefits if schools play a more active role in outdoor education and time for children. First, outdoor education and play time helps students become high-performance learners with skill sets that will be with them throughout their lives. And, second, outdoor education and play time help students perform measurably better on standardized tests.

To be more specific, the research reveals that outdoor education, greener school grounds and more outdoor play time in natural settings:

  • Usefully employ all of a child’s native intelligences, ranging from math and science smarts to interpersonal communications 
  • Are particularly effective at helping under-resourced, low-income students perform measurably better in school 
  • Quantitatively increase student motivation and enthusiasm to learn
  • Markedly improve classroom behavior with fewer discipline referrals and related problems
  • Help students concentrate for longer periods and help mitigate attention deficit problems
  • Help students to learn across disciplines and make them better real-world problem solvers 
  • Help keep students engaged in their school work and make them less inclined to drop out of school, 
  • Measurably improve classroom performance in math, science, reading and social studies. 
  • Increase scores on statewide standardized tests in basic skills, reading, science and math. 
  • Improve performance on college entrance exams.

Parents can play a particularly important role in helping their children to have more productive school time by allocating home time for outdoor activities in natural settings and by being strong advocates for schools to offer more outdoor time and experiences to their children.

This report lays out a series of steps that schools can take to increase outdoor education and experiences for their students no matter what age, including: school ground greening programs, recommendations on when to have recess, outdoor education programs on site and at nearby areas, walking to school programs and more. It likewise provides advice to parents on specific actions they can take at home and with their child’s school to increase outdoor education and play time spent outdoors.

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