It began in Scandinavia in the 1950s, and spread to continental Europe during the 1960s. As researchers started publishing studies showing its incredible benefits, Nature Kindergarten caught on in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and now in Canada.
The list of proven advantages is so long it’s easy to see why the popularity of Nature Kindergarten is growing so fast.
The big idea is that students learn about nature by being in nature. Children become more comfortable in the outdoors, and develop a deeper appreciation of the natural environment.
But there is much more to it. Award-winning author Richard Louv claims the effects of Nature Kindergarten programs show up in enhanced social skills, increased self-confidence, and improved problem-solving.
Research in Massachusetts elementary schools between 2006 and 2012 found a “consistently positive significant association between the greenness of the school…and the school-wide performance on both English and Math tests.” This is just one of a long list of studies pointing out that students - especially those in primary grades - do better at school and at life when they learn outside.
With such a roster of positive results, it is no surprise that parents and educators around the world have begun to take notice.
St. Margaret’s School is an established leader in early childhood education and our innovative spin on Nature Kindergarten called OWL (Outside While Learning) is central to all levels of early primary at the school. The girls are outside all year-round and in all kinds of weather. They explore, play, and learn in an environment supplied free-of-charge by the environment.
At SMS we take outdoor experience to an even higher level. It isn’t limited to Kindergarten. Nor is it merely bolted on to a traditional structure.
Nature is woven into the entire St. Margaret’s curriculum from JK to grade 12. Our connection with the outdoors is also essential to the school’s commitment to STEM education and inquiry-based learning.
Even St. Margaret’s beautiful 22-acre campus plays a key role. The park-like setting has been developed to support Nature Kindergarten experiences in a safe and controlled environment. This is supplemented by a specially designed Environmental Classroom nestled amongst the trees.
As the Head of School, Cathy Thornicroft, puts it, the goal is to “…push learning outside the four walls of the classroom.”
During their time outdoors our students learn about natural science, geography, environmental studies, outdoor skills, team-building, and adventure living.”
Kindergarten teacher, Rebecca Kaukinen, believes “children thrive in nature.” She observes that “Children develop independent thinking more quickly when outdoors. They evaluate safety and make decisions in a way not seen inside the classroom.”
Parents also notice a positive difference when their children attend a Nature Kindergarten.
Todd Milford’s daughter has been part of the OWL program at SMS. He also has the unique perspective of evaluating the program as an education professor.
When observing the power of combining outdoor learning with St. Margaret’s focus on STEM, Dr. Milford says “I am in awe of what the girls do on a day-to-day basis. They are setting the emotional and cognitive foundations to move forward as confident and knowledgeable individuals.”
The psychological research is piling up. The positive effect on student achievement is becoming too obvious to ignore.
In addition to what it does for individual students, using the outdoors to help teach our children has profound social implications. Schools can do much to alleviate what Louv calls our society’s “nature-deficit disorder.”
We are proud of our unique approach to addressing this issue. But we don’t stop there.
The most potent benefits show up when we blend the natural world with the formal classroom. That is the secret sauce. As Rebecca Kaukinen points out, “knowledge developed during outside play is then integrated naturally into the classroom activities, enhancing our learning experiences.”
At St. Margaret’s we have the incredible advantage of ensuring this philosophy informs every aspect of girl’s education – across every subject, from their first day of Junior Kindergarten until the day they graduate from grade 12.
It all begins in Kindergarten with OWL. For more information about early learning and outdoor education at St. Margaret’s School,