Jenny Mischel
Savannah College of Art and Design

Most individuals experience enhanced psychological well-being when immersed in outdoor environments, particularly natural settings. The proposition that such exposure could favorably influence one’s self-esteem seems plausible within this context. Self-esteem is based on how individuals come to view themselves and whether they believe they have value (Dapp et al., 2023; Hoban & Hoban, 2004). This is based on global perceptions based on external circumstances. For example, impressions are influenced by reactions from others, rewards from competition, academic achievement, reactions from their outward appearance, and family approval (Crocker & Knight, 20025; Liu & Huang, 2018).

Often intertwined and confused with self-esteem is self-efficacy. As described by Bandura (1994), self-efficacy is more specific and focused on one’s perception of potential capabilities to successfully complete a task or a goal. This arises internally whereas self-esteem is perceived externally and then internalized. Self-efficacy (e.g., I am able to do well in math classes but not in English), however, can encourage or diminish self-esteem (e.g., I get bad grades), depending on the child’s view of their own capabilities. Conversely, self-esteem can also affect one’s belief in their ability to perform (e.g., I can’t take that math class because I am bad at math; Bhatt & Bahadur, 2018).

This is especially noteworthy when children enter into an educational setting as a discernible shift occurs; wherein self-esteem becomes more contingent upon academic achievements (e.g., good grades, awards, positive reinforcement from teachers) but is also largely dependent on reciprocal relationships established with peers and educators rather than familial reactions (Fleischner et al., 2017; Hosogi et al., 2012). While high levels of self-esteem do not necessarily translate to high levels of academic performance, individuals will tend to engage in activities that heighten their levels of self-esteem, especially when their self-efficacy (i.e., their belief in their ability to complete a task) is high (Bandura, 1997). For example, a student may have been told by their parents, or teacher, they have a proclivity towards creative problem-solving, enhancing their self-esteem. When presented with the task of solving how to recreate the hexagons similar to a bee hive, they may excitedly dive into the task believing they have the capability to solve the puzzle quickly (i.e., self-efficacy). One might conclude that engaging in activities that heighten one’s self-efficacy, one’s self-esteem is subsequently boosted. This can have an impact on academic achievement.

So, how can educators promote self-esteem with their students? Outdoor classrooms. These types of classrooms inherently promote self-efficacy which, in turn, boost a student’s self-esteem (Molero et al., 2018). These types of classrooms provide students the ability to commune with nature, which has numerous health benefits but also allow for more informal interactions with peers and teachers that promote social emotional learning (Molyneux et al., 2023; Soga et al., 2021). Outdoor classrooms also provide meaningful, hands-on experiences that cater to all learning types (Burnett, 2021). Hands-on activities not only increase student interest and relevancy but promote the perception that a student can be successful when engaged in various subject matter, especially those perceived as being more difficult (Anderson et al., 2021). Feeling confident in one’s abilities to complete a task, increases self-efficacy, which affects self-esteem (Meals & Washburn, 2015). Furthermore, teachers also report more enthusiasm when teaching in such a setting, which affects a student’s sense of school belonging and connection which, again, boosts self-esteem (Meighan & Rubenstein, 2018). Furthermore, outdoor classrooms are unfamiliar and unpredictable settings, which inherently encourage self-reliance, resourcefulness, and interactions with others (Fleischner et al., 2017).

The influence of self-esteem and self-efficacy on each other is reciprocal, impacting an individual’s belief in their abilities. Outdoor classrooms, fostering self-efficacy through nature connection and hands-on experiences, offer a practical solution for educators to enhance students’ self-esteem (perceptions of worth from external circumstances) and enthusiasm for learning. The resulting increase in self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability) can potentially alleviate anxiety, positively affecting academic success, relationships, and overall well-being.This, in turn, affects student’s relationships at school, their future academic success, and their physical and mental health (Orth & Robbins, 2022).

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