Schools tackle social/emotional learning outdoors

Climbing treeThe Philadelphia School District has embraced the outdoors and contact with nature as a means of meeting deep student needs beyond anything the Vegetable Project has spoken of. The big city school system pays Outward Bound $340,000 annually “so students can climb tall trees, take nature walks, and complete physical challenges in one- and multi-day expeditions, all in the name of social and emotional learning,” according a great article at philly.com.

Maybe, however, we should put building high ropes courses on our to-do list, too.  An Outward Board staffer says in a video clip with the article that her charges “are working on figuring out how to face challenges and come out on the other side.” Goodness knows algebra classes have limited success in helping kids figure out how to face life challenges, such as that very class. Talk to educators in our schools about daily challenges and you’ll hear plenty about kids who are not so good at continuing forward when things are difficult.

Or as a Philadelphia high school teacher is quoted saying, “As soon as they feel like something’s tough, they shut down.”

Pushing past a fear of heights, however, even as it sets the heart pounding, can help kids reassess how much they can really do.

Plentiful research suggesting a link between contact with nature and myriad measures of wellbeing, such as resiliency, makes a good case for our efforts to move some teaching and learning outdoors. Building an outdoor classroom at Myers Middle School, for example, is high on our to-do list. We’ll keep our ear out for word about what Philadelphia schools accomplish putting all its ninth graders and many other students through an Outward Bound program. It’s not surprising, however, that early experiences point to students gaining confidence in their ability to face adversity.

–Bill Stoneman

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