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Lake View Elementary School students learn under nature's canopy in their outdoor classroom. Photo credit: Ben Jones

Create Green Schoolyards

Nature Makes Learning Easier

Only one-third of U.S. 8th graders are performing at or above academic standards for science and math. We need to improve. One way is to reconnect children with nature, through outdoor learning and recreation.

Research shows that children perform better academically, across all subjects, when they regularly spend time in natural environments. Creativity, critical thinking and problem solving are enhanced. Focus improves and ADHD symptoms and disruptive behavior decreases. Most importantly, time in nature increases children’s enthusiasm for learning and school.

Schoolyards with green areas offer outdoor hands-on learning experiences that can be applied to all curriculum subjects. School gardens, specifically, have been studied for 20 years. Of these studies, 83% of them found these schools’ student academic performance improved in science, math and language arts.

Groundswell helped Lake View Elementary School secure additional woodland next to the school, to provide areas for outdoor classes and a nature course. See how Lake View Elementary keeps education fresh and growing.

The Power of Nature in Education

Something amazing is happening at Madison’s Lake View Elementary. Positive behavior has increased and students look forward to learning activities. How? Outdoor learning in nature.

From birth, children eagerly explore through hands-on experiences—touching, hearing, seeing, smelling and tasting their way to a deeper knowledge of the world around them. Lake View Elementary incorporates this natural and highly effective learning method into its curriculum, thanks to its School Forest greenspace that was established in 2014 and later expanded with Groundswell’s help.

The Lake View Elementary School Forest, 7.88 acres of wooded land that adjoins the schoolyard, serves as an outdoor classroom for science, physical education, writing, art and music curriculums. A majority of the school’s students come from low-income families, typically living in apartments with no yard, nearby parks or money for family outings. This lack of connection with nature puts these youngsters at an educational, physical and social disadvantage. In response, Susie Hobart, Lake View Elementary Outdoor Classroom Coordinator, approached Groundswell in 2016 to help purchase and protect a parcel of wooded greenspace that would expand the school’s existing School Forest.

To fund this purchase, Groundswell organized a Save the Woods Campaign. “Two dozen Lake View students participated in that process, as Eco Leaders,” Hobart explained. “They gave tours of the land to campaign donors and contributed input on the new nature stations to be built there.” Funded by these generous donors, Groundswell successfully coordinated the land acquisition and helped kick off the next step.

Working with Operation Fresh Start and the school, Groundswell removed invasive shrubs from the forest and build a new nature course with five large-scale stations that allow kids to learn through physical activity. They can climb, jump, balance, observe, recline, reflect and work together to build reconfigurable structures. Within minutes of heading outside, students’ moods brighten, they relax and become more focused. The natural outdoor environment makes youngsters more open to learn.

“This is especially noticeable in kids with behavior issues,” says Hobart. “Taking them outdoors interrupts the disruptive behavior and redirects their attention.”

Groundswell continues to partner with Lake View Elementary by helping maintain the nature course and serving on their Green Team, a diverse 15-member group of school personnel and community representatives that guides the management, planning and growth of the school’s outdoor curriculum and greenspace.

Without collaborative partnerships with non-profits like Groundswell, community groups and businesses, Lake View’s outdoor education program would not be possible. Hobart calls these partnerships,

“eco-synchronicity – a critical web of support that will help these kids grow up to be our conservation leaders of tomorrow.”

Our Green Schoolyards Projects

Open to the Public Hunting is Allowed
1 Projects (Alphabetized by Project Area)
Groundswell acquired this one-half acre of forested land to add to the outdoor classroom at Lake View Elementary School. Subsequently, Groundswell donated the property to the Madison Metropolitan School District for long-term ownership. The permanently protected property would revert to Groundswell should the School District no longer want to own it for educational or conservation purposes. This property is open to the public after school hours.