Nature Helps Social Emotional Learning

Observing the natural world in school open spaces shapes students’ skills like patience and self-regulation, according to K-12 Dive.

Regular time spent outdoors helps elementary school students develop social-emotional learning (SEL) skills such as patience and self-regulation — and lead to an understanding that learning is a process that doesn’t always bring immediate results, according to the K-12 Dive article.

Allowing students to perform simple activities in outdoor spaces can accustom them to “the pace of the natural world,” Ayesha Ercelawn, an education specialist with Green Schoolyards America told K-12 Dive.

“Whether watching a plant grow through the seasons or a caterpillar develop, or waiting for an edible plant to be ready, just as a few examples, students naturally learn about a slower pace and the value and need for patience,” Ercelawn said.

“Connecting with nature can be deeply calming and help students self-regulate more quickly,” Ercelawn said. “If they have regular access to nature, such as in a living schoolyard or a schoolyard forest, students can also develop the self-awareness to seek out nature themselves when they need to self-regulate.”

There are other opportunities to bring students into contact with nature. Outdoor activities that are part of a planned school trip can deliver both a learning moment, said Craig Bailey, director of early childhood at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

“Nature walks, outdoor field trips and planting are perfect opportunities to integrate social and emotional development with academic learning,” Bailey said.

To integrate time outdoors into an SEL lesson on self-regulation, Bailey said, ask students to note how they’re feeling outside. They can make note of those sensations and see if they’re different from when they were inside a classroom.

“Teaching students about noticing how their body changes when they go outside supports the self-awareness that supports their self-regulation,” Bailey said.

K-12 Dive

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