Everyday Parenting - Outdoor Classrooms

Jon and Taryn Vanderford

These days, many kids find themselves planted in front of a TV or computer screen. But are today's kids getting enough time outdoors planting in the ground?

We found the idea of an outdoor classroom may be needed now more than ever...

A blaze of sunshine, a slight breeze and butterflies...not your typical classroom setting.

This is the outdoor classroom at Sheridan Elementary School in Lincoln. And art teacher Lara Shaw is helping students plant their stepping stones in the Earth.

"The students made the stepping stones out of cement and stones and glass pieces," Shaw says.

Here, there's no chalkboard, no computers or desks. Instead it's the beauty of nature. And teachers say it's making a difference.

"The first reaction they feel when they come here is relaxation, and I also feel like their brains transform in a way that they are able to create in a different way than they would inside," Shaw says.

The students say it helps their creativity. They like the wildlife and plants and how pretty it is outside. They say it's a lot more fun than sitting in a cramped classroom.

A couple of parents came up with the idea for this outdoor classroom. Melody Albert relied on Nature Explore, which is a collaboration between the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation for help.

"Without them we would have been two moms and a shovel. But with Nature Explore we have that firm foundation of guidance," says Albert.

A landscape architect drew up the plan, and they broke ground in 2009. Now the classroom is certified, and teachers use it for studying everything from art to science.

Sheridan is the first elementary school in the Lincoln Public School system to have a fully-developed outdoor classroom. But other schools are showing interest.

And students admit, it might just enhance learning.

The outdoor classroom at Sheridan Elementary is funded by grants or donations from parents and the community. Sheridan parents suggest calling Nature Explore if your school is thinking about its own outdoor classroom.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, educators and mental health professionals are worried that kids aren't able to spend time time outside exploring in nature. And research shows that children need that connection for healthy development. That's where the Nature Explore program comes in. It provides that needed connection. Click here to find out more about Nature Explore and the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.

Sheridan is the first elementary school in Lincoln, Neb. to have an outdoor classroom. The space includes a rain garden with native shrubs, perennials and flowers. Rain gardens help remove up to 90 percent of nutrients, chemicals and sediments from rainwater runoff. Visit the Sheridan Outdoor Classroom website to find out more. Just click here!

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