New Meta-Analysis of Hundreds of Studies: Nature Boosts Children’s Learning in Eight Ways

nature boosts children learning

A large metastudy of hundreds of scientific studies has found what most parents and teachers already know — nature has a powerfully positive impact on children’s learning and on their emotional health.

“Report after report – from independent observers as well as participants themselves – indicate shifts in perseverance, problem solving, critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, and resilience,” the authors wrote.  “The evidence here is particularly strong, including experimental evidence; evidence across a wide range of samples and instructional approaches; outcomes such as standardized test scores and graduation rates; and evidence for specific explanatory mechanisms and active ingredients.”

The meta-analysis (a study that combined the results of many other studies) was published last month in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.  After combining all of the findings, the researchers found that nature helps children learn in eight different ways.

The eight key ways that nature helps children learn were:

Nature Rejuvenates Kids and Helps Them Focus

Studies showed that whether it was students going on field trips, Swedish preschoolers, children in Chicago public housing, or 5 to 18-year-olds with ADHD, nature had a rejuvenating effect on attention.  These findings were confirmed not just by parent and teacher ratings, but by neurocognitive tests.

Nature Relieves Stress

The studies showed that even seeing nature out the classroom window had a positive effect on kids, lowering their heart rates and leading to kids who reported lower stress levels.  Better yet were the kids who were able to learn in a forest setting once a week.  Those kids had lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels even beyond what could be attributed to the physical activity of being outdoors.

Contact With Nature Boosts Self-Discipline

Studies from Spain to inner city Chicago showed that kids who spent time in nature had better impulse control, including kids with ADHD and learning disabilities.  Contact with animals such as horses was found to also have a positive effect.

Student Motivation, Enjoyment, and Engagement Are Better in Natural Settings

Many of the studies found that students and teachers reported strikingly high levels of student engagement and motivation, not just in nature activities that kids had chosen to take part in but also in mandatory school activities in nature.  The researchers noted that learning in and around nature was associated with intrinsic motivation and not just extrinsic motivation (meaning kids were motivated to do things themselves and not doing them because they were forced to), which is important in keeping kids engaged and interested in learning.

“The positivity of learning in nature seem to ripple outward, as seen in learners’ engagement in subsequent, indoor lessons, ratings of course curriculum, materials, and resources and interest in school in general, as well as lower levels of chronic absenteeism,” the authors wrote.

The researchers also found that “learning in nature may improve motivation most in those students who are least motivated in traditional classrooms.”

Time Outdoors Is Tied to Higher Levels of Physical Activity and Fitness

Children’s time outdoors was linked to cardiorespiratory fitness, the type of fitness most clearly associated with better academic performances.  Studies also showed that kids who had access to nature stayed more active, even into adulthood.

Natural Settings Provide Calmer, Quieter, Safer Contexts for Learning

The researchers found that both formal and informal learning improved in nature.  When they were learning in a natural setting, kids were less likely to engage in disruptive behaviors like pushing each other or talking out of turn.  “Further, in greener learning environments, students who previously experienced difficulties in traditional classrooms are better able to remove themselves from conflicts and demonstrate better self-control,” the authors noted.

Natural Settings Foster Friendlier, More Cooperative Relations

Many of the studies showed that natural settings helped kids make friends and feel more trusting.  The researchers theorized that the kids were able to engage more with each other, and that they had a better spirit of cooperation not just with each other but with their teachers.  In addition, they reported that “learning in greener settings has been consistently tied to the bridging of both socio-cultural differences and interpersonal barriers (e.g., personality conflicts) that can interfere with group functioning in the classroom.”

Natural Settings Encourages “Loose Parts” Play, Independence and Healthier Forms of Play

The benefits of “loose parts” play (play involving small objects that kids can use to play and create in open-ended ways) are extended into nature, where kids have access to sticks, rocks, water, dirt and other natural materials.  Studies have shown that teachers and principals found that kids who engaged in loose parts play in nature had more physically active, social and creative play, which were likely to lead to improvements in social, emotional and academic development.

Some of the most interesting studies included:

  • One study of over 3,000 students found that kids who took part in a classroom garden learned more than those on the wait list.  The more garden time they had, the more they learned.
  • Several studies showed that having nature around schools led to better standardized test scores, even in schools with high poverty levels.
  • Many studies showed that time in “wilderness” led to kids developing better leadership skills, resilience, self-confidence, cooperation, perseverance, critical thinking and more.
  • Greener everyday environments seemed to buffer kids from stress and give them better coping skills.

The authors noted that even small doses of nature helped kids, like being able to see nature out their classroom windows.  Obviously, the more time they spent in nature, the better, though.  They wrote:

“Even small exposures to nature are beneficial. If you’re indoors, having a view of your yard as opposed to facing the wall, that makes a difference. At the same time, more is better. That’s one of the things that gives us more confidence that we’re seeing a real cause-and-effect relationship,” Kuo says. “The bigger the dose of nature we give a person, the bigger the effect we see in them.”

Looking for some inspiration to get your kids outside?  I’ve been publishing a free nature-based monthly magazine for kids and their grown ups this year — Wild Kids Magazine.  You and your kiddos can read it online or print it out. It’s a nonprofit project (just as this blog always has been), just to try to do my little bit to spread good stuff in the world.

wild kids collage

Want to help convince your school to incorporate more nature in its learning?  These organizations may be able to help.

Natural Start Alliance works to connect parents, teachers, day care providers and others who teach kids “with the tools they need to create great educational experiences that help young children explore the natural world, understand their environment, and build lifelong skills that will help keep them active and engaged in their communities.”

The Children & Nature Network encourages and supports the people and organizations working to reconnect every child in every community with nature. The network provides a critical link between researchers, individuals, educators and organizations dedicated to children’s health and well-being. C&NN also provides resources for sharing information, strategic initiatives and success stories.

I’ve also created a list of my favorite nature-based books for families (and those I can’t wait to read) on Goodreads, from The Wild Weather Book to How to Grow a School Garden.  Please add your favorites!

“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.” 

–David Polis

Here’s to more nature goodness for all of us.

 

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Oodles of Nutcracker Kids’ Crafts!

nutcracker-kids-crafts

Miss Fiona and her daddy have a tradition this time of year of watching The Nutcracker and reading picture books about nutcrackers.  Daryl also has a collection of nutcrackers that the kids love to play with.

Last week, Fiona asked me if she could spend her money on a nutcracker for daddy.  The nutcracker in question was overpriced and badly made, so I offered to help her make him a nutcracker instead.  She loved the idea and I was on the hunt for some fun and easy nutcracker crafts.

Here are the best that I found, in case your kiddos would like to make some nutcrackers of their own.

Sophie World has this easy printable nutcracker that kids color and then glue to a toilet paper tube.  Add embellishments like buttons, feathers, pompoms and even a toothpick sword if you like.  It’s a bit tricky to find the PDF — click on “stats” to find it.

Nutcracker-toilet tube roll

Learn Create Love has a printable nutcracker that kids can color and then cut out and assemble.

nutcracker printable

Playground Park Bench has a rather elaborate Nutcracker and mouse battle tic tac toe game made of clothespins that you can make with the kids.  I’m not sure we need to buy all the parts and do it that fancy, but I’m thinking we could use some clothespins and craft supplies around the house to make our own kid versions.

Nutcracker-Game-Playing-Tic-Tac-Toe-with-Toy-Soldiers

Schooling a Monkey shows how to make cute little craft stick nutcracker characters.

Nutcracker-Craft-popsicle-stick

Crafty Morning uses popsicle sticks, paper and clothespins to make some very cute kid-made nutcrackers.

nutcracker-christmas-craft-for-kids

Glued to My Crafts has a sweet paper plate nutcracker for kids to craft.

nutcracker-paper-plate

Fireflies and Mudpies shows how to make a toy soldier ornament with craft sticks and paint.

nutcracker-Toy-Soldier-Ornament

And I am in love with these darling nutcracker portraits shared on smArt Class.

nutcracker-drawings

She also shared this video to show kids how to draw their own nutcrackers.

 

 

Deviant Art’s CyberDrone has a printable nutcracker cube kids can have fun assembling, too.

nutcracker_cube

Lastly, Mom Junction has an assortment of Nutcracker themed coloring pages to print out for the kids to color.

nutcracker-coloring-pages

And with that, I’m off to do a billion nutcracker crafts with a happy little girl.

 

 

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10 Ways to Make Today Magical

Happy Monday! 

It’s been too long since I’ve popped in and I’m once again resolving to find a way to do so more regularly. 

So let’s start by getting back to some ways to make the day more magical.  🙂

Here are 10 ways to make a little magic this week…

1. Go on a nature scavenger hunt.  I have a free fall nature scavenger hunt printable page here that you can use, or you can make up your own.

October nature find

2.  Make a leaf crown!  All you need are some pretty leaves (nothing else!) and about five minutes to make a gorgeous leaf crown.  Here’s a short video showing how to do it.

3.  Teach your child how to make a favorite recipe.  Even little kids can learn to make simple things like sandwiches, and big kids love to learn how to cook fancier dishes. 

fiona pizza sauce

4.  Go see a free presentation.  Local libraries, museums, schools and other community centers tend to sponsor all kinds of free talks on everything from butterflies to meteor showers to prohibition.  See if you can find some upcoming talks that your kids would be interested in and go learn something new together.

alex still

5.  Make up some homemade instant hot cocoa mix.  I shared our basic recipe in the Instagram post below. You can adapt the formula to make it vegan, sugar free or otherwise meet your dietary needs and preferences (chime in if you have a favorite paleo version!).  Adjust the proportions until you find the proper ratio for your tastes and then you have your own personal hot cocoa mix that the kids can mix up when they want to warm up with something sweet.

6.  Help your child start a collection.  Kids love to collect things — any things!  Some of our kids’ favorite collections over the years have been rocks, artist trading cards, bugs and bottle caps (Jack’s favorite collection).  You can even collect non-physical things, like types of clouds you’ve spotted (check out The Cloud Collector’s Handbook for a great book for doing that!).

bottle caps

7.  Have some fun with photo apps.  We created this fun picture of Alex with the free Photo Labs app.  Or just open up Snapchat and take some fun selfies together.  Print out and frame your favorite, if you like.

alex comic

8.  Leaf a message.  Use pretty leaves to write sweet or silly messages outside and see who will wander onto them!

View this post on Instagram

#justbecause #leafamessage

A post shared by Sharizat (@sharizat_eats) on

9.  Make some marbleized fall leaves.  Even if you don’t have fall leaves where you live (or not right now), you can make some gorgeous ones with your kiddos.  Apartment Therapy tells you how to use shaving cream, acrylic paint and watercolor paper to make these pretty leaves.

marbelized leaves

10. Have an early morning picnic and watch the sunrise together.  Get up a little early and grab something simple like muffins and a thermos of hot tea and go sit and watch the sunrise together.  You can watch from the back yard, your balcony, the roof of your apartment, a local park, or even pulled over in the car in a pretty area on your way to work and school.  Take some time to just talk and soak in the beauty. 

photo of toddler standing near lake

Photo by Káťa Prouzová on Pexels.com

And with that, my pretties, I’m off to find some food for a hungry little girl and try to wrestle my house in order.

Have a magical week!

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Shrunken Apple Heads!

Here’s a fun little science and nature craft just in time for Halloween.  The kids and I made shrunken apple heads this month and it’s been great fun watching them change over time.

shrunken apple heads

All you need are some apples (we used imperfect ones off a generous neighbor’s tree), salt and lemon juice.

First peel your apples.  You can leave a little on the top and bottom like a little hat and scarf.

Then give your child some carving tools (a chopstick, grapefruit spoon or pen knife all work well, depending on your child’s age and skill level with tools).  You can trace your design first with a pen or pencil, if you like.

Carve out a face, making sure to make each feature large since they will shrink up and collapse somewhat.

shrunken apple head

Then mix up some salt and lemon juice and apply it all over, especially in the parts you’ve carved out.  This will prevent mold and also protect them from getting too brown.  If you like, you can talk to the kids about how salt has been used for thousands of years to preserve foods and other things, and how acids like lemon juice slow oxidation (browning caused by a chemical reaction when substances react with oxygen).

preserving shrunken apple head

Now just put your apple heads somewhere to dry.  Choose a location where you can watch them and keep up with how they change.

Have fun!

 

 

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Make a Daisy Chain or Flower Crown!

Do you know how to make a daisy chain or flower crown?  It’s incredibly easy and so fun!

There are several classic ways to make a flower crown:  the slit stem, braided, and woven.  Here are the simple instructions to do all three.

Method #1 — Split stem

dandelion-crown

  1. Trim flower stems to about 4 inches. Use a fingernail to make a small slit in the bottom half of each stem.
  2. Thread one stem through the slit in the next, creating a chain. Continue, adding flowers to reach desired length. To form a circle or crown, make a second slit in the stem of the first flower, and slip the last flower through it.

If you like visuals, here’s a quick video that shows the split stem method of making a daisy chain.

Method #2 — Braided

This method makes a more tightly knit flower crown or daisy chain, and is a bit more durable.  Simply braid three stems together for about an inch, and then add in more flowers to the braid.

how to make daisy chain crowns

Creative Green Living has a lovely step-by-step tutorial with lots of photos.

 

Method #3 — Woven

daisy chain

This is another easy way to make a flower crown.  Simply wrap one stem around the flower of the next, pull both stems to the side, and add another.  Wrap that stem around the first two, pull all three stems to the side, and continue.  As stems end, they will be woven into the line well enough to stay put.  To finish, wrap the last flower around the first flower and the end of the chain, forming a circle.

And here’s a short video that shows the woven method of making a flower crown.

Our Annalee (Rhiannon Lee, known these days as Rhia) also made a simple rose crown years ago and shared the instructions here on Magical Childhood.

rose crown

Have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10 Ways to Make Today Magical

Happy Monday!  I can’t wait to get back to yapping with you all again (if anybody is still out there!).

I’m sorry to be gone so long this time.  Life has only gotten busier since I started Magical Childhood nearly 18 years ago in 2000 (and later this blog instead of the emailed newsletter, in 2009).  Back then, I had a baby girl and a toddler, who are now both officially grown ups  — Rhiannon (Annalee) is now 18 and Victoria is 20 years old!  Luckily, I still have little ones too.  Fiona is now 6, Alex just turned 11 and Jack just turned 15.  My hands are full but my heart is happy, and I love having all different ages of kiddos to play with now.  🙂

I’ll start updating you all with some of the happenings here in our family, but in the meantime how about an old fashioned list of ways to make the day magical?

Here are 10 ways to make some magic this week!

1.  Make mud art!  Find a good place to dig in the dirt and provide some water, spoons, platters and pretties to decorate with (dried flower petals, dried beans, dragon tears, beads, etc.).  Let the kids mix up mud and make whatever designs they like and leave them to dry.  Take pictures and then just rinse and reuse the special stuff later.

mud art

2.  Drape some blankets over a clothesline, tree, tent poles or other props in the back yard and make some impromptu forts.  Stock the insides with some fun books, games, snacks, a flashlight, whatever, and see what fun the kids dream up to have in their new fun space.

pirate

3.  Use clean sand castle molds to an make ice cream castle.  Decorate wildly and eat!

4.  Teach the kids how to play marbles.  This is such a simple way to have fun at any age.  Here are the instructions if you’ve forgotten (or never learned!).

marbles

5.  Put birthday candles in each child’s dinner tonight.  It doesn’t matter if dinner is sandwiches and it’s 9 months from their birthdays, kids just love blowing out candles and feeling special. Relight them and do it again and again!

6.  Make paper boats and sail them in puddles or the kiddie pool.

7. Make some fairy wands.  This is a simple craft we’ve been doing for years.  Simply attach some colorful ribbons to sticks and you’re good to go.

ribbonwands

8.  Have a bubble relay outside.  Players blow or carry their bubbles from person to person and start over if they pop.  Alternately, blow a bubble and see if you can work as a team to blow it across a finish line.

9.  Go for a walk in the rain with your child.  Umbrellas optional.

puddlesboots

10. Have a family “3” challenge. See if each of you can do three sweet things today for each other family member today.  They can be tiny little things, just something to show you love them, things that you know will make them happy.  Make your teenager’s favorite dish for supper.  Leave the dishes and go read a story to your toddler.  Give extra monkey hugs (in our family, we dip kids upside down and holler “monkey hug!” and swing them back up again and again), and so on.

Have a magical week!

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Kids Can Bowl FREE This Summer All Over the U.S. and Canada

 

Looking for a fun way to spend time with the kids this summer?

KidsBowlFree is offering free bowling throughout the United States and Canada for children under all at participating bowling lanes all summer long.  Even military bowling centers are taking part.

bowling

Through the program, kids at or under that bowling center’s cutoff age (typically 15, but sometimes 13 or other ages) are eligible to register for 2 free games each day of the KBF program, all summer long, courtesy of the participating bowling centers and sponsoring schools and organizations.

They say:

Registered Kids Receive 2 FREE GAMES Of Bowling Each Day Of The KBF Program All Summer Long, Valued At Over $500 Per Child!

This program is designed by bowling centers to give back to the community and provide a safe, secure, and fun way for kids to spend time this summer.

Each bowling center has its own rules for things like cutoff ages and whether shoe rental is included.  Head to KidsBowlFree to find a participating center near you.

Have fun!

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