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Eagle View Students Take Learning out of the Classroom, into Nature

posted Feb 5, 2019, 11:08 AM by Brenda Williams
In today’s technological-based, busy lifestyles of many of our families, it’s no surprise that spending time outdoors often takes a back seat. Screen time has replaced playing outside. As this has become the norm, our kids are missing out on something valuable. In his book Last Child in the Woods, child advocacy expert Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder.” Louv links the lack of exposure to nature directly to rises in obesity, attention disorders and depression. As educators, we see these effects every day in our classrooms. By providing more outdoor learning opportunities for our students, we may be able to have a direct impact on our students’ wellness, their learning and success in school.

While taking kids outdoors offers many important personal benefits, it is also linked to educational advantages. Outdoors, students can experience many real-life scenarios to explore, observe, investigate, question and problem-solve. Cooperation and teamwork are regularly involved in outdoor activities. Student engagement increases. Research provided by the Children & Nature Network shows that spending time in nature enhances educational outcomes by improving children’s academic performance, focus, behavior, and love of learning. The benefits can also include reduced stress and improved in-school behavior and attendance. As children spend time outdoors, they learn to appreciate nature and will become stewards for our environment in the future. As the state of Minnesota develops the new Science standards for 2019, they are considering including Environmental Literacy, another indication of the importance of this topic.

At Eagle View Elementary, we are fortunate to have a designated space for outdoor learning. The concept of developing a nature center began during the planning stages for the school. When Eagle View opened in 2004, the Eagle View Nature Center became a reality, providing a natural space where teachers can take their classes outside to learn. Local organizations such as the Pelican Lakes Conservation Club provided resources and retired Pequot Lakes teacher Jim Minerich spent countless hours developing the nature center, which grew to include garden boxes, grassy areas, a courtyard and plenty of green space to explore.

This year, our newly formed Eagle View Nature Center Committee hopes to expand on Minerich’s work by providing more spaces and opportunities for our teachers to take their students outside. We received a grant through Crow Wing Energized to purchase a class set of snowshoes. Thanks to this grant, teachers have been taking their classes snowshoeing to try a new winter sport, do science exploration and stay physically active during the long winter months. We have a new bird feeding station outside of the cafeteria windows and our students will be participating in a Citizen Science bird count through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A grant from the Patriot Foundation will help us bring geocaching to our nature center, allowing our students to learn about navigation, directions and maps while exploring the outdoors. 34 students are currently participating in after-school cross country ski classes, which is another great way to be physically active outdoors in winter! Nature and STEM classes are offered through Community Education. All of these activities can be integrated into other subjects, giving the students real-life experiences to read and write about.

We are looking forward to spring when we can get our students outside planting our vegetable and flower gardens. Plans are being developed to add seating areas where classes can meet. We hope to expand our gardens to include a rain garden, pollinator garden and butterfly garden with walking paths through these areas. We also plan to start composting with our students. During staff development days, teachers and support staff have been offered trainings on teaching effective outdoor education classes and even how to take a group of kids snowshoeing! We recognize the important role adults play as partners in our quest to get kids outside.

There are so many possibilities for outdoor education, and with our nature center we have the perfect space right out our back door. The benefits are invaluable. We hope to partner with local organizations who recognize the importance of getting kids outdoors and who share our mission. If you have ideas or suggestions, please contact 4th grade teacher and Nature Center Coordinator Deanne Trottier at Eagle View Elementary.

-- Deanne Trottier, Eagle View 4th Grade Teacher/Nature Center Coordinator 
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