Nature Explore Classrooms Have Dramatic Effects on Child Behavior
Reprinted with permission from the Arbor Day Journal, November/December 2011
John Rosenow, Arbor Day Foundation Chief Executive
As parents, teachers, and youth leaders gain experience with the use of Nature Explore Classrooms, they are reporting some remarkable positive effects on children’s behavior. For example, a mother related this story to an Arbor Day Foundation staff member a few days after visiting the Nature Explore Classroom at Arbor Day Farm. She related how the oldest of her three children had autism. His condition was severe enough that it often was challenging to find things that she could do with all her children together. She had heard about the Nature Explore Classroom and decided one afternoon to take her children there. She commented she expected her son would tolerate being there for maybe 20 minutes, but 20 minutes soon turned into an hour... then one hour turned into two! She said her son was totally engaged in the site. His siblings saw him in a whole new light. Most amazing, she said, was that when they got home, the son, who seldom communicated with words, excitedly told his dad about his adventures in the outdoor classroom. This mother began to cry. She commented that, for many people exploring and playing in the Nature Explore Classroom was a fun way to spend an afternoon. For her family, it became a whole new way to communicate with their son.
Susie Wirth, Nature Explore outreach director, has noticed how activities at the Classroom can help groups of visiting children become more settled and observant when she leads them on a nature hike. She says, “Rather than immediately starting children off on a hike, we now start by giving them time to play and explore on their own in the Nature Explore Classroom. This has been transformational. We find it leads to much greater curiosity. Their pace is slower, they observe more closely, identifying patterns in nature they might have otherwise missed. And behavior problems on the trails are non-existent.”
Margaret Lambert, education coordinator at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington, has also noticed that children at their Nature Explore Classroom seem more focused and interested. She reported, “There is very little running around. Children are engaged in focused activity and intuitively know what to do. Parents are commenting on what a great space it is and they are spending time there with their children.”
One goal of the Nature Explore program is to connect children with nature and provide positive outdoor experiences at a young age. Another is to enhance skills ranging from personal observation to cooperation and team work. “But best of all,” says Susie Wirth, “is to see children and the adults who accompany them having fun. For those of us who are educators, it makes it more fun for us, too.”
More information about Nature Explore can be found at www.NatureExplore.org.