Extension Educators Sara Langworthy and Judy Myers have received an Institute on the Environment mini grant to advance the Children, Youth & Family Consortium (CYFC) partnership work with Bruce Vento Elementary School in East St. Paul. The grant will enable the development of an interdisciplinary, expert-led, and research-informed plan for the creation and implementation of nature-based spaces near the school that are educational and therapeutic.
In school settings, these “natural learning spaces” are usually incorporated into playgrounds and other outdoor areas, either on the school grounds or in adjacent locales, such as nature reserves. CYFC staff is going one step further and plans to provide nature-based learning spaces both outside and inside the Bruce Vento school building. Partners in this effort include the University of Minnesota College of Design and Center for Spirituality and Healing.
|Students of Bruce Vento Elementary School prepare raised beds.|
Why natural learning spaces? Educational success can be elusive despite schools’ increasing efforts to meet diverse learning needs. Many students who experience overwhelming opportunity gaps and chronic stress in their homes, schools, and communities continue to fall behind in school despite efforts to boost achievement through increased class time on core subjects. Chronic stress disrupts children’s brain development and can lead to negative adult health outcomes. Research suggests that exposure to plants, animals, and natural landscapes can be therapeutic for young children facing chronic stress and trauma.
By creating natural learning spaces, CYFC's goal is to increase Bruce Vento students’ learning and improve their physical and emotional well-being. As part of that effort, CYFC staff and educators will hold 8 to10 partner meetings over the next 9 to12 months with horticulture, interior design, and therapeutic learning experts to create a detailed plan for the creation and implementation of natural learning spaces at the school. This will be done by:
- Discussing partners’ organizational resources and exploring potential grant or private funding opportunities to support the creation and implementation of natural learning spaces.
- Developing a plan for engaging with Bruce Vento staff, students, and the surrounding community to help inform the design of natural learning spaces.
- Approaching potential partner organizations or vendors who could inform or support the creation and implementation process.