September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

What Does It Take to Get Kids Outdoors?

Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

by Lori Merritt

Our environment faces many challenges. Human behavior has greatly contributed to these negative changes. Children will be inheriting a world with many environmental problems and need to be prepared to face them. In order for children to care about the environment and have positive environmental behavior they first need to have experiences outside in natural environments (Chawla & Cushing, 2007; Handler & Ebstein, 2010). Unfortunately, children are spending less time in nature, making them less connected to their natural environment. In Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, nature-deficit disorder is described as “the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses” (p.36). In order for our students to be healthy, and environmentally proactive members of society we need to lead them outdoors.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) provide a framework to lead our students outside, where they can engage in science practice by investigating, observing, collecting data, and asking questions. Exposing children to science lessons outside and having positive experiences in nature could be a way to help connect children to nature and influence their attitudes (Monroe, 2003; Schultz, 2001). Plus, they will love spending time outside!

Community Collaboration
As a graduate student I was approached by a group of teachers who wanted help making science come alive for their students. These dedicated teachers were unfamiliar with NGSS and so I started by sharing the grade level standards and linking them to resources. There are still elementary school teachers who are unaware of the new standards and need support in teaching science. Often, teachers without a background in science can feel overwhelmed and need some help navigating NGSS. For teachers who may need support, observing science lessons can be a great way to better understand NGSS.

Lessons Modeled
I planned and modeled four experiential lessons for students; getting outside was an important aspect of the science lessons. I worked with two classes of first grade students and two classes of second grade students in the San Juan Unified School District. The students collected data using quadrant sampling on an abundance of insects in two different schoolyard habitats. Students planted pollinator-friendly plants in existing planter boxes on their campus. They also collected evidence of life forms by drawing pictures, counting, and categorizing wildlife they observed. The teachers were surprised, both at how engaged their students were while making observations outside and at how much wildlife existed on their campus.

After the Initial lessons in the schoolyard, the students also learned about adaptations and designed two different insect patterns on paper butterflies that they played hide and seek with to see which pattern camouflages better and helped their insect survive. Finally there was a walking field trip to a local river where students played nature bingo looking for different features. The teachers associated with this collaboration have expressed excitement about continuing to take their students outside for lessons. They also have increased confidence about teaching outside science lessons. Parents commented that they had wanted to walk their children to the river, but were afraid to before the field trip.
Parents who joined the classes on the hike to the river expressed appreciation for taking their children out into nature and had a greater willingness to take them out on future nature walks.

Leading Children Outside
The experiences these students had may contribute to a lifelong appreciation of nature, science, and stewardship behavior. Empowering adults to lead children outside may be the key to having a larger impact on children’s attitudes and behaviors. Teachers who are familiar with NGSS need to support all elementary school teachers and parents to increase confidence and motivation to do hands-on science, model appreciation for nature, and provide repeated experiences in nature.

Young children connecting to local wildlife is the foundation for further developing environmental attitudes (Sobel, 1996). It is important to give children time to explore their local environment. When teachers do not have the experience or are uncomfortable taking students into nature it is hard to lay that foundation. The key indicators for future environmental stewardship in children are repeated contacts with and experiences in nature, along with positive role models (Chawla, 1999). Families and teachers are young children’s primary role models for appreciating nature (Chawla, 1999). As teachers we need to take the leadership role in getting our students outside and suggesting activities that families can do outside together. Teachers also need support from principals to acknowledge that learning does occur outside. Administration should be made aware of the many benefits to teaching lessons and spending “class” time outside. Teachers need time to familiarize themselves with NGSS standards and time to collaborate and plan lesson outdoors.

Our nation’s administration is leading the way for families to get outside. This year, President Obama has identified the importance of getting children outside in his recent Every Kid in a Park Initiative: in the 2015-16 school year, every fourth grader and her family will have free admission to all national parks and other federal lands and water. Teachers and families can connect students with public lands and find great teaching resources using collaborative websites such as Hands on the Land and the National Park Service’s Teacher Resources.

More time outdoors, at school and at home, will increase children’s exposure to nature. That exposure to the natural world will, in turn, promote a scientific mindset of young explorers. Don’t we want our students to feel connected to nature and have the scientific skills to think about, question, and communicate about the world? Teachers have the power to be positive role models for young children, valuing and inspiring future environmental stewardship. Teachers have the power to lead kids outside. So, let’s get every kid outside!

Literature Cited
Chawla, L. (1999). Life paths into effective environmental action. The Journal of Environmental Education. 21(1): 15-26
Chawla, L. & Cushing, D.F. (2007). Education for strategic environmental behavior. Environmental Education Research. 13(4): 437-452.
Handler, D & Ebstein, S. (2010). Nature education in preschool. Highscope. 25(2): 1-17
Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
Monroe, M. (2003). Two Avenues for encouraging conservation behaviors. Human
Ecology Review. 10(2): 13-125.
Schultz, P. (2011). Conservation means behavior. Conservation Biology. 25(6): 1080-1083.
Sobel, David, (1996). Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart of Nature Education, Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society

Lori Merritt is a master’s degree student at Miami University of Ohio and a Parent Participation Preschool Teacher at Caleb Greenwood Elementary. She is a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Leave a Reply


State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.