It is clear that, throughout the history of mankind, human beings have learned more time in contact with nature than enclosed within 4 walls. The classroom concept is something relatively new …
There are very recent studies that show that the time we spend in a natural environment affects our global health (cognitive, emotional, social and physical), but also the time we were in contact with nature during childhood: children who grew up in completely urban environments are 55% more likely to develop mental illnesses in adolescence and adulthood than those who grew up in more natural environments (Engemann et al., 2019).
Nature and learning
Going outside and enjoying an ergonomic posture is possible even if we don’t have desks or chairs. It is only a matter of getting organized and having the tools to make it possible, like the iconic Z-tool.
Here we present some evidence that explains how nature can help improve learning.
- Improves attention
Attention is a key factor in learning. A simple walk through a natural environment is enough to recharge the brain circuits associated with mental fatigue and to improve performance in tasks involving executive attention (Berman et al., 2009). For example, this attentional network linked to concentration and self-control improves if students perform academic tasks in classrooms with windows open to green spaces.
- Decreases stress levels
Here we have another interesting example: Primary school students who studied throughout the course a whole day a week in the middle of nature showed a daily reduction in their levels of the catabolic hormone cortisol, unlike those who did it in a closed school environment, who maintained stable cortisol levels despite its natural tendency in children to decrease along the day from the morning peak (Dettweiler et al., 2017). (…)
- Improves self-control
Contact with nature has a direct positive effect on self-discipline in childhood. In a study involving girls and boys between the ages of 7 and 12, better performance in tasks that required concentration, inhibition of impulses and postponement of reward was found in those who lived near green spaces ( Faber Taylor et al., 2002).
It is clear that nature could be a promising tool to work on self-regulation in childhood.
- Increases motivation and active commitment
Although many teachers are afraid of moving the classroom concept outside because they believe that this compromises concentration in later classes, it seems that this is not the case. Students tend to be more motivated and committed to learning in natural environments and, furthermore, this leads to better participation in the following tasks when they are back in a classic classroom context (Kuo et al., 2018).
- Promotes physical activity
Physical activity in childhood has a positive impact on the brain, especially on its executive functions. We cannot forget the cardiorespiratory benefits and all that it entails on health to combat sedentary behaviors in current times. In the classroom context, short active breaks are sufficient to improve concentration during subsequent academic tasks (Hillman et al., 2019). (…) Likewise, breaks during the school day that promote children’s free play in green spaces (playgrounds as learning opportunities) recharge the brain circuits that allow attention to be restored (Amicone et al., 2018).
- Improves the learning context and social relationships
The environment is also very important due to the creation of the emotional climate that comes with it. For example, providing educational experiences in contact with nature generates more calm, safe and fun emotional climates that improve peer relationships and facilitate learning (Nedovic and Morrisey, 2013).
- Promotes play and creativity
Contact with nature encourages good relationships and cooperation because it enhances play, a critical factor in learning that stimulates, especially in childhood, physical, cognitive and social-emotional development.
Originally published in Escuela Con Cerebro.