By the end of the 2021 school year, students had five to seven months of “unfinished learning”. The COVID-19 pandemic created an historical crisis within education which resulted in the widening of the achievement gap for students from low-income communities. The detriment of too much screen time, lack of in-person connection and the slide of test scores spurred educators and legislators to look to outdoor classrooms as a solution.
Policy Makers Point to Outdoor Education Experiences
Outdoor education offers a myriad of benefits for children. Classes hold an element of fun which increases engagement and enthusiasm for learning. As a result, studies show that children who learn outdoors tend to score higher in reading, science and math. Outdoor education helps children develop a deeper sense of place and an increased connection with nature and their community. The effects of nature also promote physical and mental wellness by decreasing stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, improving immune function and more. Research is bursting at the seams with studies that point to the essential health and wellness benefits that nature provides.
Advocates at local, state and national levels are paying attention and are now calling for dedicated outdoor spaces that support active learning. These spaces are a low-cost way for educators and students to engage in learning in a designated space outside of the traditional classroom. Using recommendations from an extensive study from the Center for Economics and Business Research at Western Washington University, Washington’s House of Representatives passed historic legislation in February of 2022, voting to implement statewide Outdoor Education Experiences Programs for 5th and 6th graders that will provide all students equitable access to the outdoors. The programs will not only teach children environmental education, but can be developed to include other areas of study as well.
The primary goal of the initiative is to help children overcome the pandemic-related learning obstacles that left them with unfinished learning and provide vital outlets that will give them opportunities to thrive. The benefits of outdoor experiences span beyond test scores. These programs can help students improve self-discipline and self-motivation and increase self-confidence and self-worth. Regular time in nature promotes social development, reduces aggressive behavior and creates empathy for plants and animals. Encouraging participation in positive outdoor experiences can help create a future generation of environmental stewards.
Bellingham’s First Public Outdoor Classroom
As educators and policy makers think outside of the box to solve the educational crisis unleashed by the pandemic, nonprofits like Recreation Northwest have already begun working with community leaders to create residential outdoor classrooms where these programs can take place.
Efforts are underway to build Bellingham’s first public Outdoor Classroom in the southeast area of Fairhaven Park, minutes from the entrance to the “Hundred Acre Wood”. Unlike the traditional camp-like settings of an Outdoor School, this classroom is located in a residential area that is easily accessible. Recreation Northwest intends for the space to be used by schools, nonprofits, civic organizations and more to promote enriching environmental experiences and stewardship.
Learn more about Bellingham’s new public Outdoor Classroom here.
About Recreation Northwest
Recreation Northwest is a 501(c) 3 charity. Our mission is to teach the health benefits of nature, promote outdoor recreation, and steward the places where we play. Learn more online and give at RecreationNorthwest.org.
Co-authored by, Lauryn Haywood, Recreation Northwest Spring 2022 WWU Communications Intern
Todd Elsworth is one of the many “Mossy-haired lunatics roaming the dripping peninsulas”, described in “I’m Here for the Weather” by Tom Robbins. As executive director, he works to fulfill our mission to teach the health benefits of nature, promote outdoor recreation, and steward the places where we play.