Chelsea Harvey's Washington Post article appeared in last Monday's Valley News, with a simple headline, "Study: Nature is Healthful." It seems like the kind of thing we all already know, but now the research is on our side. But how do we bring these new findings to life in our classrooms? Here are VINS' top tips for creating a healthful classroom through nature.
1. Breath clean by going green!
One of the main findings in the study Harvey examines indicates that people who have more vegetation around their homes had lower rates of mortality from non-accidental causes. More specifically, rates of cancer, kidney disease and respiratory diseases were most strongly decreased by exposure to greenness.
So we suggest that you green up your classroom. There is plenty of evidence that plants, even house plants, can play a significant role in keeping your air clean. Grow a few different kinds in your classroom. Start some from seed, bring in some fully established. Use them as a living lab and examine the differences in different ages' or species' growth. Give your students responsibilities for caring for their plants. Try different natural fertilizers to see how plants respond to different nutrients in their soil. The possibilities are endless.
Task your students with assignments that get them outside and moving! The Harvard study concluded that encouraging physical activity is a huge draw in greener spaces, leading to better health. Rather than using hypothetical data or problems, ask your students to collect data on their own. Sit outside and count how many birds you see or create a map of the vegetation in your back yard, etc.
And don't stop at homework! I've touted it's benefits before, but now I'm really telling you outdoor and environmental education guides are perfect resources for teachers looking for ways to shake up to routine of notes, desks and blackboards. Try VINS' version or any of the other lesson guide. The State Agency of Natural Resources and the VT Fish and Wildlife Department both offer free workshops in Project WET, Wild and more!
3. Green your school yard.
One of the more surprising findings includes the incredible benefits that natural spaces have for an individual's mental health. School yards too often look like a continuation of ever-urbanizing landscapes, rather than rich environments for socializing and learning. Building and maintaining school gardens can be great projects for students of all ages and can be done with coordination among different classes, but the end result is always the same: more community, more learning opportunities.
You garden doesn't have to be for food either. It can simply provide nicer aesthetics, or habitat for birds and butterflies, increased shade, filtration benefits for storm water, and more. The project of building a garden can be a tall order for many teachers who are already swamped. We suggest you pair up with a garden club, nursery, local university, team of high school students, or a nearby nature center to take on some more of the technical planning while lending their expertise to your students' enthusiasm. There are many granting opportunities for schools looking to green up their yards, so with some planning ahead, the costs can be covered. Here is a great resource for schools getting their own green spaces started, from Education Outside.
4. Explore beyond the block
While many of us in Vermont are lucky enough to have school yards around our buildings, that isn't always the case in more urban areas of the state, or the country. However, city and state parks, conservation areas and nature centers can be great places to explore. Reach out to your local ambassadors and see who can guide you through trails or along a water's edge to explore a natural area nearby. A lot of researchers and state or federal organizations are required to conduct outreach in the terms of their funding, so you might be able to swing a really high-quality field trip for just the cost of transportation! Nature Centers, like VINS, often have opportunities for matching funds or other scholarships that can help defray the costs for underfunded schools, consider enlisting those expert educators for your trips to their nature center OR to a natural area nearby to your school.
What will that look like at your school? Share your thoughts below!