May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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


CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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