A Boost to Education and an Antidote to Teacher Burnout?

About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of nine books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle." His newest book, "Vitamin N," offers 500 ways to build a nature-rich life. In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal.

“Connected and honored, natural teachers could inspire other teachers; they could become a galvanizing force within their schools. In the process, they would contribute to their own psychological, physical, and spiritual health.” — The Nature Principle

Not long ago, I was speaking with a middle school principal in Austin who was sympathetic to the cause, but felt overwhelmed by all the demands that he and his colleagues already face. “Look, you want me to add this to my plate when it’s already overflowing?” he said. “I can’t do this without outside help.”

He was right. Bringing the classroom to nature and nature to the classroom is an enormous task, and educators need community and political support. Schools, businesses and outdoor organizations can work together to introduce students to nature centers and parks, and sponsor or promote overnight camping trips. Parent-teacher groups can raise financial support for field trips and nature programs; they can sponsor family nature nights at schools; they can give awards to those teachers who, year after year, get their students outside.

No doubt about it, schools need community support. But educators can lead the way, and one teacher can make a difference — especially if he or she reaches out to another.

To get started (and keep going), check out C&NN’s synthesis of some of the best research on how nature time stimulates learning and helps educators, assembled by Cheryl Charles, Ph.D, and Alicia Senauer of Yale University. The C&NN site is also packed with positive examples of what schools are doing around the U.S. and Canada and in other countries as well. Another resource is C&NN’s recommended reading list, which describes a number of books on place-based and nature-based learning by such authors as David Sobel, Louise Chawla, Robin Moore, Joseph Cornell, Jon Young, Ken Finch and others.

Through C&NN, you can also become a Natural Teacher. Many educators, especially new teachers, feel inadequately trained to give their students an outdoors experience.  But by networking, teachers can share ideas, support each other, and know they’re not alone.

You can learn more about C&NN’s Natural Teacher Network. And please see C&NN’s latest Natural Teachers Newsletter, edited by Tamra Willis and Herb Broda.

While we’re on this topic of teachers organizing teachers, here’s another notion: Why not start a nature club for teachers? That’s a suggestion from Robert Bateman, the famous Canadian wildlife artist who launched his Get-to-Know campaign in Canada and the U.S. to connect kids to nature. Through such clubs, Bateman says, teachers who are experienced in nature could organize half-day hikes each month with other teachers.

C&NN isn’t the only resource for natural teachers. Other organizations that offer excellent resources for schools that want to get their students outside include the National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Refuges, which provide professional development programs that have been correlated to public school curriculum standards. To green your schoolyard, tap the knowledge of such programs as Evergreen in Canada, and National Wildlife Federation’s Schoolyard Habitats and the Natural Learning Initiative, and check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide.

Don’t forget the school library. For ideas on how to naturalize your school library and how library systems can become information hubs on life in the surrounding bioregion, click here.

These are just a few examples of the resources available for educators who want to connect their students to nature. Here’s an added incentive. Want to avoid teacher burnout? Canadian researchers report that teachers who get their students – and themselves – outdoors can reignite their own energy and enthusiasm for teaching.

Every teacher can become a natural teacher.


Richard Louv is founding chairman of the Children and Nature Network. His newest book is “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.” He is also the author of “LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS”, which includes a Field Guide of 100 Actions for families, teachers, and communities.

On Education: A video clip from Camille Rockwell’s “Mother Nature’s Child”


  1. I love this and appreciate the sentiments. As a certified humane education specialist I often get “held up” by teachers whom think I am asking them to do something more. Then I explain that humane ed can be easily woven into curriculum that they have to do anyways! Some actually “get it” ecspecially when I point them to many resources/lesson plans and the like that are all free! My mission is to clarify humane ed to the masses, get it into the school systems and teach teacher whom then can pay it forward in the classrooms. Keep it up!

  2. This piece is so timely and has special meaning to me right now. I am a public school teacher in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and I was just selected as one of three finalists for 2012 Maine Teacher of the Year. In my oral presentation, which was delivered to Masters of Arts in Teaching candidates at the University of Maine in July I shared my passion for getting students outdoors and why I believe that doing is critical, especially right now. To support my message I included my own observations over 27 years of teaching, research from the database of C&NN, video clips of my students speaking about why they like being outside and clips from the beautifully produced film, Mother Nature’s Child (used with the generous permission of the director). At the center of the presentation was a project I developed in collaboration with the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust in which all fourth grade students in the town (130-150 kids) visit an old growth forest property and explore the same trail three times per year – in fall, winter and spring. The program is now entering its seventh year and is free of cost to the school. Through grants and donations, the land trust provides trained volunteer walk leaders and a nature journal for each student. The journal holds activities done in the classroom prior to the walks, while on the walks, and back in the classroom after the walks. Through this highly engaging program we teach all of the ecology standards assigned to our grade and integrate standards from other areas as well, including poetry writing, research and observational drawing! And all the while, we are promoting physical activity, emotional well being, team work, and community partnership.
    And one more very important thing: “Turn over a log, pick up a salamander, hold it in your hand and feel it wriggle across your palm, and you will care about preserving vernal pools. Take a walk in the woods in the winter and see signs of animals working hard to survive the harsh conditions and you will want to help them my preserving the habitat they depend on. Learn the name of a wildflower or a bird and you will always want it to be there so you can see it again. If today’s kids are inside invested in the virtual world, who will care for the real world on which we all depend?” This was the ending to my presentation, but I hope it was also the beginning of a commitment from the preservice teachers in the audience to take their students outdoors.


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