Outdoor Learning Project Reveals Children More Motivated to Learn When Outside

outdoor-learningChildren from 125 schools across the South West of England are happier, healthier and more motivated to learn thanks to a new project commissioned by Natural England that has turned the outdoors into a classroom and helped schools transform ways of teaching.

The findings have been released today by the Natural Connections Demonstration project, a 4-year initiative to help school children – particularly those from disadvantaged areas – experience the benefits of the natural environment by empowering teachers to use the outdoors to support everyday learning.

The project, which is funded by Natural England, Defra and Historic England and delivered by Plymouth University, is the largest project of its kind in England and has already helped more than 40,000 primary and secondary school pupils get out of their classrooms and into the outdoors – whether that’s a math lesson in a local park or drama out on the school field.

To read the full article, click here.

Young Children’s Preferences: What Stimulates Children’s Cognitive Play in Outdoor Preschools?


A number of studies have identified childcare environments as significant resources for children’s development, learning through play, and contact with nature. However, there is a lack of knowledge about how, from a child’s perspective, specific outdoor physical environments in preschools stimulate children’s cognitive play.

Emphasizing on the value of listening to children, this study reports the perspectives of twenty-two 4- to 5-year-olds. The study context was an outdoor preschool with natural, mixed, and manufactured settings. A combination of photo preferences and semi-structured interviews was used to investigate children’s perception of preferred settings and cognitive plays.

The results identified that children mainly enjoyed functional and dramatic play. They mostly preferred mixed behavior settings that incorporated ranges of natural and manufactured elements. Compared to other settings, children found mixed settings provided the most opportunities for functional, constructive, dramatic, and game with rules play. The outcomes of this study have implications for the design of outdoor preschools, suggesting a balanced integration of nature with manufactured play features to enhance cognitive play experiences.

To read the full article, click here. 


Creating an Outdoor Classroom: Things to Consider

students-adults-working-to-create-outdoor-classroomStudents at Littlewood Elementary School in Gainesville, Florida are enjoying their new outdoor classroom, thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and a GreenWorks! grant from Project Learning Tree. The outdoor classroom includes seating for 24 students, as well as bird feeders, bird baths, and native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife.

The students were involved in many aspects of creating the outdoor classroom; from site planning and design, through installing bird feeders, planting native species, developing adopt-a-tree signs, and creating stepping stone mosaics.

Teachers are thrilled to have this outdoor space where students can be immersed in learning about nature. They observe bird behavior, calculate the dollar value of trees, measure plant growth, and collect data on seasonal changes.

To read the full article, click here.

Partnerships and Community Involvement Help Texas High School Win $10 Million in ‘XQ Super School’ Contest

HOUSTON, Texas — The wait is over. The announcement has come. Furr High School is an XQ America Super School. And although this may be new news to most Texans – the recognition did not happen overnight.

The origins of this success are vast and varied, but for two lead educators, there is little doubt where their inspiration came from – their own high school experiences, the engagement of their teachers and the facilitation of the students getting involved with state, federal and non-governmental agencies.

David Salazar and Juan Antonio Elizondo are Career and Technical Education agriculture teachers at Furr High School – known as The Green Institute – within the Houston Independent School District. They are leaders in the Woodsy Owl Conservation Corps Green Ambassadors program and are largely responsible for proposing the concepts for which the school applied for the XQ grant.

They grew up learning that the mission of natural resource agencies is ultimately to help the people.

“Agencies afford people the opportunities and education of what natural resources mean,” said Salazar. “They avail us all of long-lasting experiences, opportunities for civic participation and a sense of place. With this knowledge and experience, we are able to engage with policy and help push it forward. This can greatly impact our public education system – especially in our urban communities.”

Houston is the most populous city in Texas and the fourth-most populous city in the United States. With a land area of nearly 600 square miles, Houston is recognized by governing.com as the country’s most sprawling city.

This makes natural spaces a premium and more-and-more a rarity.

W. Goodrich Jones State Forest is nicknamed Houston’s Backyard and is 1,700 acres on the outskirts of Houston proper.  Managed by Texas A&M Forest Service, it is a working forest used for research, demonstration and education. The property and its visitation programs serve as a home-base of sorts for inner-city school field trips and various educational programs. It is among the pines and wildlife of this forest that a core group of HISD educators and students began unfolding their ideas for a different education and life for those in their schools and communities.

Salazar and Elizondo are just two of the leaders in this truly youth-led movement, using peer-to-peer learning and multi-agency collaboration. They have helped take what agencies deliver into their communities and have made it their own.

The Green Ambassador program is an integral component of Furr High School attaining the status of Super High School and receiving up to $10 million over the next five years to help transform the American high school experience.

The program was formed in the East End of Houston with the help of the American Forest Foundation Project Learning Tree GreenSchool Initiative and a grant from the USFS-National Urban and Community and Forestry Advisory Council.

The ambassadors are high school and college students, who go out to elementary and middle schools, local communities and parks to share information on how to take care of the environment, spreading conservation and environmental awareness messages. They incorporate bilingual education, use mentors to connect diverse audiences to nature and facilitate after-school programing in schools and community centers using conservation education curricula from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service and Texas A&M Forest Service — among others.

It is in part through these numerous partners and collaborators that the Houston Greenbelt is becoming a sustainable model that others may be able to replicate nationwide.

“The U.S. Forest Service is thrilled to have had a long-term collaboration with the community and with Furr High School — The Green Institute — that has led to the development of this phenomenal opportunity to serve as one of the nation’s 10 XQ Super Schools,“ Michiko Martin, director of conservation education for the U. S Forest Service said. “We will continue to support the inspiring work of our youth, educators, administrators and the community as we forge new pathways to education, natural resource careers and connecting all people to nature and conservation.”

Salazar and Elizondo said they tried to help the school and community figure out how urban and community forests could mitigate the heat island effect and flooding that are so prominent in Houston. They also recognized how trees could help contribute to food sovereignty.

“A lot of us saw each other as overweight, obese and with diabetes. We were truly seeing a trend – we were the trend!” said Elizondo. “We wondered why? Why are we like this? We started thinking about food and connected it with the concepts of gardens, food orchards and food forests.”

The Green Ambassadors have planted hundreds of fruit trees and other beneficial vegetation in their communities. They are embracing prevalent research that connects human health benefits with trees and nature to create natural spaces that are sustainable and self-regenerating.

The organic gardens are just one category on which the group concentrates. There are members of the group dedicated to permaculture, pollinators, health and physical fitness, wildlife, urban planning and development and environmental justice.

These current concepts and content areas serve as a starting point for Furr High School’s vision for the future.   According to school administration, the vision encapsulates a place that offers: equitable education and assessments customized to the specific needs, hopes and dreams of the students — comparable to those available for more privileged populations; and a sustainable leadership tract for educators and students, incorporating partnerships with universities. 

The energy and enthusiasm of the East End movement has been invigorated with the XQ: Super School Project grant. But Salazar knows that the real work has just begun.

“Change starts here. This is just the beginning,” he said. “As we help transform our little corner of the world, we will be able to serve as a model for comparable schools and help build the capacity of Texas and the nation.”

Furr High School is one of 10 schools nation-wide to receive the competitive XQ grant. Read the Education Week XQ: Super School Project announcement here.

For more information on Furr High School and the XQ Project please visit http://www.houstonisd.org/furrhigh  or http://xqsuperschool.org/.


John Warner
Urban District Forester, Texas A&M Forest Service
936.546.3169, jwarner@tfs.tamu.edu

Released September 15, 2016


Window Views to Green Landscapes Help High Schoolers Recover from Attention Fatigue and Stress

In a recent study, students that were in classrooms with views to green space were better able to pay attention and recover from stressful events than students in classrooms that had views of buildings or other man-made structures, or no windows at all

Ninety-four high school students from five high schools participated in this study. Student participants were randomly assigned to  either a classroom with no windows, a classroom with windows that opened to a built space, and a classroom with windows that opened to a green space. Participants engaged in typical classroom activities followed by a break in the classroom to which they were assigned. The researchers studied stress levels with EKG readings, blood volume pulse, and body temperature.  Other tests measured the students’ attention fatigue and perceived stress levels.

Results demonstrate that classroom views to green landscapes cause significantly better performance on tests of attention and increase student’s recovery from stressful experiences.

To read the full article, click here.

Connecting With Nature? There’s an App for That

2014-12-04-iphonephoto-thumb[1]Let’s face it, people are tied to their technology.  Smartphones travel with us wherever we venture. Why not use this resource as a way of more deeply connecting with nature?  Apps that  encourage  nature exploration and environmental literacy are readily available.   More and more, environmental organizations are finding ways to use technology to encourage people to spend time in nature.

To read the full article click here

Klasky, Ben.  2014 Dec 04. Connecting With Nature? There’s an App for That. Huffington Post: Green. http://huff.to/1zCQ7bK

Want Your Kids to Get Into Harvard? Tell ‘Em to Go Outside!

DF-41A growing body of evidence supports the belief that spending time in nature has positive impacts for youth.  Schools that have developed outdoor teaching areas and nature-based educational experiences report academic improvements among students in multiple subject areas. Researchers are finding that out-of-school learning experiences, which include non-formal educational settings like national parks, museums, and nature centers, contribute to student’s knowledge and interest in science and the environment.   

To read the full article click here.

Louv, Richard. 2014 Sept 22. Want Your Kids to Get into Harvard? Tell ‘Em To Go Outside. Children & Nature Network: The New Nature Movement. http://blog.childrenandnature.org/


Green Schools National Conference to be held in Virginia Beach, March 4-7, 2015

GSNC2015The Green Schools National Conference brings together experts and stakeholders to influence sustainability throughout K-12 schools and school districts.  Colleagues who share their passion and offer their own green schools experiences are put together in a true collaborative event with thought leaders and early adopters of green school best practices.   Attendees are passionate about transforming schools and the way they operate.  The annual conference is designed to allow attendees to learn about creative strategies for success and to take home real-life tools that can transform schools.

The 2015 conference will take place in Virginia Beach, VA, March 4-7, 2015. To learn more about and register for this conference visit: https://greenschoolsnationalnetwork.org/conference/

Connecting Kids to the Hogtown Creek Watershed in Gainesville, Florida

mary__kids_in_woodsInterfaceSouth and local partners, including the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Alachua County School District, the Gainesville Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs, and Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, received funding through this year’s Forest Service More Kids in the Woods (MKIW) cost share funding opportunity. The MKIW program supports activities and programs designed to spark curiosity about nature and promote learning through applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics principles.

Project partners will collaborate with Westwood middle school science teachers to conduct outdoor science learning activities and service learning projects within the nearby Hogtown Creek Watershed in Gainesville, FL. Partners will also organize a school camp out, participate in career day events and science fairs, and conduct a train-the-teacher workshop on outdoor learning concepts and techniques. Project successes, materials and information will be shared locally, regionally and nationally through our combined partner networks.

To learn more about the Forest Service’s More Kids in the Woods program and 2013 cost share funding recipients visit: 





Local Food from Forests!

The USDA Know Your Farmer,  Know Your Food (KYF2) initiative was started in 2009 and now includes well organized participation by all of the USDA agencies including the Forest Service.  KYF2 is focused on the growing interest in local and regional food supply, community gardens, access to healthy food, local/regional food infrastructure, andKid in Garden farm to school programs.

A recent webinar hosted by the USDA KYF2 Outreach Committee, the Forest Service in Region 8, and the National Agroforestry Center included five case studies demonstrating the “forest to table” concept.  These included:

  • Mike McCorquodale discussing the Job Corps Center gardening projects in Frenchburg, KY
  • Jim Chamberlain on his Southern Research Station work on ramps and forest farming techniques
  • Luis Rivera, who introduced local harvesting of yams and other tropical food from El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico
  • Donna Yowell introducing the Edible Forests of Mississippi orchard program funded by the USDA Specialty Crops and Urban & Community Forestry programs through state agencies
  • Tamberly Conway and the role Conservation Education plays with the national GreenSchools gardening program

The webinar also provided an introduction to the KYF2 program, resources, and funding opportunities.  Visit the KYF2 Compass website.

You can get a list of the webinar contacts and URL links here… or, the archived webinar here…