From tree branch teepees to bush gardens, mud kitchens and even functional fire pits, elementary schools are sprouting all kinds of natural play environments in an effort to better connect elementary students to the outdoors.
But as nature’s play infrastructure grows, new research from the University of South Australia shows teachers also need a boost in knowledge about how best to connect play areas in the wild. nature to the curriculum and to children’s learning.
Conducted in partnership with Nature Play SA, the first Australian study found that while all teachers believe that nature-based play and learning can bring huge benefits to children, seven out of 10 teachers felt that their knowledge and their confidence limited their ability to fully embrace these opportunities at school.
Surveying teachers from 50 schools in South Australia, the study found that the benefits of nature-based play and learning for children included:
- better mental health (98%)
- improved cognitive development (96%)
- learn to take risks (96%)
- spending time outdoors/in nature (96%).
Barriers to adopting nature-based games and learning for teachers included:
- limited knowledge and confidence about how to integrate learning or operate the classroom outside (68%)
- a busy schedule limited their ability to adopt new learning (64%)
- a lack of understanding/support from others in the school (38%).
Australian statistics indicate that less than a quarter of children aged 5 to 14 achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day and spend just over two hours a day sitting or lying down for screen-based activities.
Lead researcher and PhD candidate Nicole Miller says the importance of nature-based play and learning for children cannot be underestimated. She strongly advocates for schools to support professional development opportunities to develop nature-based teaching and learning skills.
“There is widespread concern that children are not spending enough time in nature and as a result are missing out on the potential benefits that nature has to offer, both for well-being and life. learning,” Miller said.
“Emerging evidence indicates that nature-based play and learning can improve children’s social skills, learning, physical health and well-being.
“While many schools create beautiful playgrounds in nature, many teachers feel unprepared and unsure how to use these spaces to maximize curriculum-aligned teaching and learning opportunities.
“For savvy teachers, nature-based play and learning is amazing. For example, cooking a damper over an outdoor fire can encompass a range of teaching skills – math and measuring ingredients, essential skills in fire and safety, literacy and sequencing, recipe skills, as well as the ingenuity to find the best sticks to use as skewers.
“But simple activities can also provide benefits: using sticks to demonstrate how fractions are part of a whole can demonstrate problem solving in a hands-on way and help children better grasp more complex math concepts.
“Nature-based play and learning has so much potential for learning and well-being, for both students and teachers. But we need to find ways to help teachers develop and feel confident to provide learning opportunities in nature.
“School-level training, education and support are essential for teachers to take the next step, but so are system-level approaches to examining how learning based on nature can be formally included in the curriculum.
“Mitigation of these barriers must be a priority to ensure that children can access nature-based play and learning opportunities at school.”
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Material provided by University of South Australia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.