January 21, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

The Nature Effect: Observations Show the Benefits of Outdoor Education

In a world of eyes stuck to screens, some sage old advice is becoming trendy again: get out and smell the roses.

We reported recently that discipline problems dropped significantly when prisoners were shown nature videos. Now, a study shows that young school children learn better outside. Teachers need no longer fear that going outside will make their students unruly. Medical Xpress reports on what researchers at the University of Illinois found:

A study recently published in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology has found that 9-10 year-old children are significantly more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork following an outdoor lesson in nature. Strikingly, this “nature effect” allowed teachers to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long during a subsequent indoor lesson. The results suggest that outdoor lessons may be an inexpensive and convenient way to improve student engagement — a major factor in academic achievement.

Intuitively, some teachers expect that the 3rd graders would return to the classroom as antsy as the ants they probably saw under the trees. The contrary was true. Controlled experiments between a believing teacher and a skeptical teacher, both engaging in periodic outdoor lessons on a grassy knoll in view of trees, showed measurable calmness and attentiveness as a result of the “nature effect” — twice the attentiveness, in fact, as after classroom lessons alone.

“We wanted to see if we could put the nature effect to work in a school setting,” says Kuo. “If you took a bunch of squirmy third-graders outdoors for lessons, would they show a benefit of having a lesson in nature, or would they just be bouncing off the walls afterward?“….

“Our teachers were able to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long at a time after the outdoor lesson,” says Kuo, “and we saw the nature effect with our skeptical teacher as well.”

Outside observers confirmed the benefit by counting the number of times the teachers had to interrupt lessons to quiet the students down or get them to focus. The researchers even found reason to think that even views of trees and natural settings out the window have some benefit. If so, it recapitulates previous studies showing that prisoners benefit from nature scenes on TV, and shut-ins in the hospital benefit from pictures of nature shown at their bedside. (Presumably, Jurassic Park is not the kind of nature show that helps.)

If further research confirms the benefits of the “nature effect” on teaching, it will be a simple, inexpensive way to improve education without higher taxes or government programs. Just go outside.

The Nature Effect Benefits Everyone

The “nature effect” is not only for students. The article says,

Scientists have known for a while that natural outdoor environments can have a variety of beneficial effects on people. People exposed to parks, trees or wildlife can experience benefits such as physical activity, stress reduction, rejuvenated attention and increased motivation.

This is confirmed by another article on Phys.org, “Exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong in cities beneficial for mental wellbeing.” New research confirming old research was done at King’s College London. In this study, 108 individuals were given a smartphone app that kept track of their position via GPS as it periodically queried their self-assessment of well-being.

Researchers at King’s College London, landscape architects J & L Gibbons and art foundation Nomad Projects have used smartphone-based technology to assess the relationship between nature in cities and momentary mental wellbeing in real time. They found that (i) being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birdsong, seeing the sky, and feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing, and that (ii) the beneficial effects of nature were especially evident in those individuals with greater levels of impulsivity who are at greater risk of mental health issues.

Anyone confess to being impulsive? (at least some of the time?) Getting outside and looking at trees and sky may be just what the doctor ordered. It’s a bird, it’s plain, that can help you feel like leaping over tall trees in a single bound. Ah, breathe in that fresh air! Over 3,000 assessments were gathered in the study:

The results showed significant immediate and time lagged associations with mental wellbeing for several natural features: trees, the sky and birdsong. These associations were still evident several hours after exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong had taken place, indicating time-lasting benefits.

The results suggest that outdoor programs might help those struggling with mental health problems, particularly those who are impulsive. The results also can inform architects on how to plan new work environments to enhance employee productivity.

Evolutionists might claim that humans evolved outdoors and so naturally feel better outdoors. That is not necessarily true, because they probably ran into the cave for reproduction—the main purpose in life to Darwinians. Creationists, though, concur with the benefits of outdoors for different reasons: the Creator placed the first humans in a garden, not in a city. The highly-complex bodies and exquisite senses were undoubtedly finely tuned for the environment He made for them, allowing the first humans to fully enjoy, appreciate and express gratitude for everything they saw.

To celebrate this entry, we have some good news: the Master Plan Association nonprofit organization that sponsors Creation-Evolution Headlines is launching a new upgraded website this month for a sister ministry called Creation Safaris. Outdoor education is one of the three pillars of Creation Safaris: Adventure, Worship and Education. Together, those spell “AWE”—another healthful mental experience, as we have reported (see sample articles below). With its motto “Escape to Reality” (check this article) the new CreationSafaris.com website will be a colorful, pictorial and informational source for groups anywhere in the world that wish to get more AWE in their life. Watch the front-page videos for a taste of what Creation Safaris is all about.

  • Awe Struck a Superpower Nerve (8/21/17)
  • Why Awe Is Uniquely Human (5/31/15)
  • “Awe, My Pleasure” in News from Eden  (5/20/15)
  • Awe, Shucks: Backwards Causation in Scientific Explanation (12/08/13)




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