Outdoor Education Good for Kids and the Planet
“The kids have been captivated by
this experience. You see them looking and smelling and tasting. They don’t
think that this is school. Yet we know what they’re learning. And it’s very
important, fundamental information.” – Alice Waters, The Edible
At one time, playgrounds were
places where kids were sent to work out pent-up energy from the classroom on
the swings and soccer pitch. Today, playgrounds and schoolyards have become
classrooms in their own right, setting a foundation for a lifetime of
Take the school vegetable garden. The
past decade has seen a surge of interest in gardens in the wake of Alice
Waters’ Edible Schoolyard Project
and Michelle Obama’s organic vegetable garden at the White House. Washington,
DC alone has over 80 school gardens.
The National Wildlife Federation’s
Eco-Schools program is fostering an appreciation for healthy, homegrown food in
ways their parents probably never experienced. At
PS69 in the Bronx, New York, students not only grow their own vegetables,
but have developed connections with local farmers who teach kids about their
work by bringing baby cows to class!
Elsewhere in New York City, at
PS164 in Brooklyn, the Trust for Public Land helped establish a unique “green
yard” complete with rain garden, tree groves, and composting areas. The
best part? Kids at the school helped design the space and therefore feel a
stronger sense of ownership. The green yard has also increased interaction
between the school and members of the community.
In California, the Surfrider
Foundation is sponsoring a different kind of green yard… or rather, a blue yard.
Friendly Garden at Redondo Union High School is capturing rainwater to
prevent polluted runoff from reaching local waterways. The space also serves as
a research site for biology and environmental science students.
Students in Maryland get to learn
about their state reptile through the National Aquarium’s Terrapins
in the Classroom program. Hatchling terrapins are “loaned” to 30 schools
that care for and learn about the turtles during the year. Before summer
vacation, students take a trip to Poplar Island to release the terrapins back
to the wild (see photos of students releasing their terrapins here).
These programs are not only good
for the environment, they provide a big boost for kids health and academic success
too. Research from North
Carolina State University found that minority students exposed to outdoor
educational opportunities improve their ecological literacy and cognitive
in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects is enhanced
through hands-on outdoor education, and students’ mental
and physical health improves with access to nature.
To learn more about the EarthShare organizations that support outdoor
education programs, visit our Environmental Education issues page. Are you an educator or parent? The
National Environmental Education has lots of resources for integrating outdoor learning into the