I was inspired by the talk by Angela Hanscom at the Children & Nature Network International Conference and took that inspiration to turn it into action. Angela presented her research behind why kids fidget and have trouble paying attention in class and how active, outdoor play can help them focus.
She so clearly defined the role of motion as being an integral part of our overall wellbeing and identified ways that motion, and building core strength benefit our children's abilities to focus, stay engaged, and participate more fully in the classroom. Her examples, comparing the traditional occupational therapy techniques to their equivalent in nature were inspiring.
I felt that she had concrete concepts and ideas that teachers can take into their classrooms to affect change right away. I returned to Austin, purchased several copies of the book, and distributed to a cadre of teachers that are dedicated to outdoor learning in Austin ISD. We will be doing a book study on Balanced and Barefoot this fall.
In addition, I led a training this week where teachers worked in pairs and were asked to read 1 blog post from the balanced and barefoot blog. Together, they then had to create a poster conveying the main point of the blog. The presentations and teacher commentary were exciting as they collaborated on ideas and ways that they can help promote healthier students.
One teacher makes her students run laps on the track at the beginning of recess so that they can count those laps towards their marathon kids contest, but after reading the blog she has decided that their 30 minute recess is sacred and she intends to build the laps and marathon work into other opportunities in the day.
Another teacher discussed their homework structure on campus and that she is going to ask for a school wide practice of assigning at least one nature/outdoor based homework assignment per week that students can engage in with their parents.
At the District level, I have presented this information to our Health Department and we are in the process of developing a plan for identifying a campus or two that have a high level of students with sensory disorders and supporting them with green infrastructure on their school grounds, training and more to address their needs through nature.
Anne Muller is the Outdoor Learning Specialist and SHRC Coordinator at Austin Independent School District. She is also on the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin leadership team.