A recent study has found that as children increasingly spend more time indoors away from nature, their ability to empathise, create and innovate is being severely reduced. This has led to the advent of so called Nature schools, where most of the day is spent outdoors and a less rigid approach to set meal times and breaks is enforced. There are also less extreme ways to integrate nature back into the classroom, including rethinking the design of new schools buildings, incorporating indoor plants into the classroom and spending at least 1hour per day learning outdoors.
In Europe and parts of Scotland, so called forest schools have emerged as a direct reaction to the increasingly digital world of learning. Kids spend most of the day outside, learning all the traditional literacy and numeracy skills that are a must, in addition to creating their own dwellings from sticks, or learning directly about the natural world. These schools are supported by the government and school fees often subsidised to increase the amount of students attending. Parents notice the difference in the children immediately with many saying their child’s confidence and overall happiness is much better, in addition to their literacy and numeracy improving markedly.
Nature schools may not be to everyone’s liking, however aspects of the approach can be applied to the design of new schools. Architects and designers are increasingly working together with educators to design school environments that foster a better interaction between indoor classrooms and nature. A big part of this movement has come from the general trend in design to reduce the division between inside and out, getting back to nature in our often hectic and stressful lives. As in modern home design, incorporating large glass sliding doors that can be completely opened up into classroom design can to allow fresh air and connection to the outdoors. The door hardware now exists to slide very large doors effortlessly. Brio is one company that designs and manufactures quality sliding door tracks and sliding door hardware to accommodate all sizes of doors and openings. Their hardware is used in some of most cutting edge homes and schools to create flexible spaces for learning.
So how can one incorporate more nature into an established school environment? Easy. A great way is to create a vegetable garden that the kids can help to maintain, water and see the fruits of their labour when it comes to harvest time. Its relatively cheap to set up and can also help to reduce waste in the school if a compost bin is included for leftover lunch scraps to be placed in. Of course using indoor plants within the classroom is also a good idea. There are a number of innovative systems available now to create “vertical gardens” and hanging gardens that don’t need much soil or care.
So, whichever way you look at it, getting more nature back into schools is good for everyone. The students love it, teachers get some more outdoor time, and parents see the benefits of improved learning and overall happiness.