Jenny Mischel
The Savannah College of Art and Design

Research posits that aesthetic experiences, such as communing with nature, can positively impact well-being (Vessel et al., 2019). Incorporating natural setting into schools, such as an outdoor classroom, can have a positive impact on mental well-being for both students and teachers. It is a break from a typical indoor classroom which, in itself, can stimulate curiosity and pique student engagement while also fostering a sense of relaxation and rejuvenation. There are numerous other benefits as well.

First, research indicates that exposure to nature, such as daily classes in an outdoor classroom, can reduce depression and loneliness and raise life satisfaction, happiness, and self-esteem (Soga et al., 2021). In a meta-analysis conducted by Tillmann et al. (2018) this was especially true for those with ADD/ADHD symptoms. Findings suggest the outdoor exposure helps decrease symptoms that might otherwise be disruptive to students in indoor settings. This may in part be due to findings that the natural world promotes a sense of purpose and meaning. Heyman et al. (2023) posit interacting with nature is vital to emotional and psychological wellbeing as individuals tend to view nature being part of oneself. Moreover, it allows students to feel grounded while reducing feelings of isolation, enhancing overall well-being.

The potential that natural settings promote well-being propelled researchers to consider how natural living spaces can also affect well-being (Bratman et al., 2019). Their findings suggest a positive significance. Furthermore, research indicates that if one cannot access nature, short simulated videos using virtual reality (VR) also have a positive impact on mood levels; although, immersing in actual nature is most beneficial (Browning et al., 2020). Knowing the benefits of nature immersion, integrating outdoor classrooms presents a promising avenue for enhancing student well-being, which in turn influences academic success.

Finally, another noteworthy potential of instruction in an outdoor setting is the exposure to sunlight, more specifically, Vitamin D. Numerous research studies indicate exposure to Vitamin D increases mood and wards off various ailments (Stohs & Okezie, 2020). Numerous research studies of recent, investigate the potential of supplemental Vitamin D intake to attain the same effect, yet most are non-significant indicating the need for actual sunlight exposure to incorporate Vitamin D (Choukri et al., 2018). As most children now spend exorbitant amounts of time indoors, they are lacking this free and crucial component that affects wellbeing. An outdoor classroom is a free and, given the season, means for students to acquire this vital bodily need.

Incorporating natural settings, such as outdoor classrooms, in educational environments, offers several potential benefits for well-being. These include improved mental well-being, increased feelings of connectedness, enhanced mood levels, and the opportunity to obtain essential sunlight exposure. As educators and policymakers consider holistic approaches to education, the integration of outdoor classrooms emerges as a valuable strategy to support student well-being and academic success. Further research and implementation efforts are warranted to fully explore and maximize the potential of outdoor learning environments.

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Browning, M. H., Mimnaugh, K. J., Van Riper, C. J., Laurent, H. K., & LaValle, S. M. (2020). Can simulated nature support mental health? Comparing short, single-doses of 360-degree nature videos in virtual reality with the outdoors. Frontiers in Psychology10, 2667.

Choukri, M. A., Conner, T. S., Haszard, J. J., Harper, M. J., & Houghton, L. A. (2018). Effect of vitamin D supplementation on depressive symptoms and psychological wellbeing in healthy adult women: A double-blind randomised controlled clinical trial. Journal of Nutritional Science7, e23.

Heyman, S., Jansen, T., Sass, W., Michels, N., Pauw, J. B. D., Van Petegem, P., & Keune, H. (2023). How education can be leveraged to foster adolescents’ nature connection. In J. Činčera B. Johnson, D. Goldman, I. Aljaher, and M. Medik (Eds.) Outdoor environmental education in the contemporary world (pp. 83-94), Springer International Publishing.

Soga, M., Evans, M. J., Tsuchiya, K., & Fukano, Y. (2021). A room with a green view: the importance of nearby nature for mental health during the COVID‐19 pandemic. Ecological Applications31(2), e2248.

Stohs, S. J., & Aruoma, O. I. (2020). Vitamin D and Wellbeing beyond infections: COVID-19 and future pandemics. Journal of the American College of Nutrition40(1), 41-42.

Tillmann, S., Tobin, D., Avison, W., & Gilliland, J. (2018). Mental health benefits of interactions with nature in children and teenagers: A systematic review. J Epidemiol Community Health72(10), 958-966.

Vessel, E. A., Isik, A. I., Belfi, A. M., Stahl, J. L., & Starr, G. G. (2019). The default-mode network represents aesthetic appeal that generalizes across visual domains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences116(38), 19155-19164.