Connecting Kids with Nature
“Eeek, what’s that?”
“Hey, look what I found!”
“This is so cool!”
Truman Elementary School is in Rolla, in the midst of a rapidly growing urban area along the I-44 corridor. Most of these students would have few outdoor nature experiences if it were not for the school’s efforts to create and use an outdoor area for learning.
“Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore, for learning and creativity,” Richard Louv wrote in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Kids and nature seem a natural combination, but what seemed like a perfect match a generation ago is not happening today.
There are plenty of reasons why kids are not connecting to nature. Fears about strangers and traffic keep kids indoors. TV and computer screens command their attention. Organized activities and homework leave them little time to explore the outdoors.
“We are often so busy with our own lives that we don’t pay attention to what is around us when we go outside,” said Shelly Fouke, a teachers’ aide at the school. “An outdoor classroom like Truman’s Backyard helps us refine our senses and see what is going on around us, above us, and under our feet.”
Many Missouri kids learn much of what they know about nature from television. That’s why during classroom discussions of snakes, for example, kids are more likely to talk about anacondas and boa constrictors than any of the species native to Missouri. At Truman Elementary School, however, students have actually seen Missouri’s snakes, along with Missouri’s turtles, snails, bugs and lizards and a variety of other animals.
Recent research shows that outdoor exploration is a necessary component of a healthy childhood. Outdoor activity also can have a calming effect (particularly on those diagnosed with ADHD and other disorders), reduce obesity and relieve pressures that lead to depression.
Building an Outdoor Classroom
Many schools across Missouri have built outdoor classrooms to stimulate learning while developing a love of nature. The students at Truman have taken ownership of their project from the very beginning. They started by having a school-wide election to name their outdoor classroom.
Since then, students have designed and mapped the trails (with the help of the USGS) and named the paths for famous Missourians, Missouri state symbols or famous locations in the state.
On one of the newest trails, Wilder Way, summaries created and illustrated by the students depict stories and the history of