BACK TO SCHOOL, FORWARD TO NATURE: Ten Ways Teachers Can Fortify Their Students With Vitamin N

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 ten books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," "The Nature Principle," and "Vitamin N." His newest book is "Our Wild Calling: How Connecting to Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.

Not long ago I met some dedicated young women who were doing their student teaching at an impressive nature-based preschool. They made it clear that they’d love to pursue careers at similar schools. But they were discouraged about the prospects. Despite growing demand from parents, the number of nature-based preschools remains relatively low.

“Is there a business school at your university?” I asked. Yes, they said. “Have the business school and your education school ever considered working together to prepare future teachers to start your own preschools?” The students looked at each other. They had never heard of such a thing. Nor had the director of the preschool

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Why not? Probably because it doesn’t exist. Bringing more nature experiences to education will be a challenging task, and teachers can’t do it alone. Higher education, businesses, families and the whole community must become involved.

That’s where the growing children and nature movement comes in. If, as an educator, you’d like to join or help lead the movement, here are a few ways to get started in your own school and beyond:

1. Get to know the research. Environmental literacy is essential, but that’s only part of the story. A growing body of evidence suggests that time spent in more natural environments (indoors or outdoors) can reduce the symptoms of attention disorders, and improve cognitive functioning as well as creativity, socialization and mental and physical health. Abstracts and links to original research for more than 300 studies on children and nature can be found at the Children & Nature Network (C&NN) Web site, as well as abstracts specific to educational benefits.

2. Join the Natural Teachers Network. “What teachers need to do is network on these issues, get ideas from each other, gripe about what is not working, and brainstorm solutions,” says Tamra L. Willis, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Graduate Teacher Education Program at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. “There are many challenges related to taking kids outdoors, such as curriculum/standards integration, discipline, materials management, safety, etc. By networking, teachers can share ideas, support each other, and know they are not alone.”

Here’s how to join C&NN’s Natural Teachers Network. And download the free Natural Teachers eGuide, which describes programs that your school can emulate.

3. Teach the teachers — and the principals, superintendents, and school board members, too. Many teachers feel inadequately trained to give their students an outdoors experience, and all educators need to know about the benefits to education and the opportunities that already exist. In challenging economic times, community resources may be tapped. For example, many wildlife refuges provide professional development programs that have been correlated to public school curriculum standards. But longterm progress will depend on higher education and the incorporation of nature experience into teacher education curricula.

Two great programs lead the way. The new Nature-Based Early Childhood Certificate program at Antioch New England even includes a Business Planning course by nature preschool pioneer Ken Finch. And Mary Baldwin College offers an environment-based learning (EBL) graduate programs designed specifically for educators.

4. Create a Natural Teacher Club. Robert Bateman, the famous Canadian wildlife artist, suggests that teachers and other educators create their own clubs that would organize weekend hikes and other nature experiences for teachers. Such clubs would not only encourage teachers experienced in the natural world to share their knowledge with less-experienced teachers, but would help improve the mental and physical health of teachers. These experiences can be transferred to the school.

Added note: one study shows that educators who get their students outside are more likely to retain their enthusiasm for teaching. It can be an antidote to teacher burnout.

5. Green your schoolyard. Studies suggest that school gardens and natural play spaces stimulate learning and creativity, and improve student behavior. To get started, learn about C&NN’s Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities Initiative. Download the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide. Tap the knowledge of such programs as Evergreen in Canada, and the Natural Learning Initiative in the United States. Also, see a worldwide list of schoolyard greening organizations, including ones in Canada, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. And check out the book “Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation,” by Sharon Danks.

6. Bring nature to the classroom and library. Start a Salmon in the Classroom project or similar endeavor. In Participating students receive hundreds of hatchery eggs to care for in classrooms. Students learn about life histories and habitat requirements and later release the salmon into streams they have studied. Similar programs exist in other countries, Canada. (Some schools, worried about salmonella contamination, don’t allow any animals in classrooms. Still, hands-on nature teaching can offer teaching moments, such as: Wash your hands.) Public and school libraries can also become Natural Libraries, serving as hubs of bioregional learning and helping connect students and their families to the natural world in the communities in which they live, including the most densely populated urban neighborhoods.

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7. Create nature-based community and family classrooms. An outdoor classroom is much less expensive than building a new brick-and-mortar wing. Schools, families, businesses and outdoor organizations can work together to encourage parents to create family nature clubs, introduce students to nature centers and parks, and sponsor overnight camping trips. Or, school districts can follow Norway’s lead and establish farms and ranches as “the new schoolyards,” not incidentally creating a new source of income to encourage a farming culture.) See the Farm-Based Education Network.

8. Help start a nature-based preschool or charter school. Help increase the number of nature-based preschools as well as public, charter, or independent K-12 schools that place community and nature experience at the center of the curriculum. Resources include Green Hearts and Antioch’s Center for Place-based Education.

9. Establish an eco club. One example: Crenshaw High School Eco Club (led by the remarkable natural teacher Bill Vanderberg, who now teaches at another school), was among the most popular clubs in the predominately African-American high school in Los Angeles. Students went on weekend day hikes and camping trips in nearby mountains, and on expeditions to Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. Community service projects included coastal cleanups, nonnative invasive plant removal, and hiking trail maintenance. Past members became mentors for current students. Student grades improved. Lives were changed. To learn more, see the CBS Early Show report on Crenshaw’s Eco Club, which unfortunately no longer exists.Which brings us to the next point.

10. Help grow the children and nature movement. While educators can’t change the society alone, the truth is that too many schools and school districts fail to start or support good programs to get kids outside. That’s one reason why the regional and state campaigns around the country are so important: by building community support, they bring social and political heft to the table. These campaigns, especially with teacher support, also encourage parent-teacher groups can support schools and educators financially and by presenting annual Natural Teacher awards to educators who have engaged the natural world as an effective learning environment.

Just think what teachers, school administrators, superintendents and other educators could accomplish with a little help from, say, business schools — and from the rest of us.

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Richard Louv 
is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. His ninth book, VITAMIN N, will be published in 2016. He is currently working on his tenth book, about the evolving relationship between humans and other animals.

This piece originally appeared in March, 2013. Illustration courtesy of © Rob Shepperson 

More reading:

The Hybrid Mind: The More High-Tech Education Becomes, The More Nature Our Children Need

Thriving Through Nature: Fostering Children’s Executive Function Skills (a new publication from C&NN, 2015)

Building Executive Function Skills: How Time in Nature Enhances School Success, by Cheryl Charles

You Can Get Your Students Outside — and Still Meet Your State Standards

You Can’t Bounce Off the Walls If There Are No Walls: Outdoor Schools Make Kids Happier — and Smarter, by David Sobel

Indoor Education for Outdoor Learning? What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Green Havens from Toxic Stress for Students and Teachers

Nature Neurons: How Nature Experience Builds Brain Architecture

How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain

The Green Schoolyard Movement: Gaining Ground Around the World

Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning and Moving the Classroom Outdoors by Herb Broda

Get involved:

This is a sampling of resources available.

C&NN’s Research Center: learn more about the research linking nature experience to good educational outcomes.

Join C&NN’s Natural Teachers Network. Download the free Natural Teachers eGuide.

C&NN’s Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities initiative.

C&NN’s Natural Libraries Initiative.

Nature-Based Early Childhood Certificate Program, Antioch New England

Mary Baldwin College Environmental-Based Learning Program

International School Grounds Alliance


  1. Good site and awesome posts. I found a lot of informative posts from this site. Thank you!

  2. This is a really good post. Must admit that you are amongst the best bloggers I have read. Thanks for posting this informative article

  3. Thanks for this awesome blog post and i love it.

  4. Thank you for the nice article.

  5. Definitely, a garden with great learning environment truly extracts the creativity out of children to make him learn the new ways. There are other methods too, but this one works amazingly well – considering the resources we have available.

  6. We are all children of nature and we can’t exist without of it. All around us help us to be what we are. And it`is necessary for children to grow up together with nature.

  7. This is impressive and also great information, This is excellent.

  8. Great! One of the most impressing articles I’ve read for the last week, awesome! I’ve already sent it my professor I hope he will like it.

  9. Such lovely ideas about nature and a studying process! Thanks a lot! As a teacher and a mother at the same time, I understand that this process has to be the most comfortable for the child. When it`s natural in any sense of this word, it`s the best I think.

  10. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Excellent. Let’s go green

  12. Thanks for sharing this awsome information with us.

  13. Thanks for sharing this awsome information with us very interesting blog!


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