Healthy Beginnings

Nonprofit Spotlight – Sierra Nevada Journeys: Outdoor Experiences Make Children Healthier, Cognitively Brighter

Sierra Nevada Journeys uses the power of outside experiences to make science learning fun and engaging for children and to help them develop critical thinking skills, while inspiring them to be good stewards of our natural resources. Those outcomes alone are positive, but studies show that getting youth outside also offers a host of health benefits.

For example, National Wildlife Federation reports that the outdoors has numerous health benefits for children including body, mind and spirit. Spending time outside raises the level of vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease and diabetes. Exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHA) symptoms, and children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.

Exposure to environment-based education also significantly increases student performance on standardized tests, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Schools are experimenting with environment-based education by bringing children out of the classroom and into nature, or by encouraging more recess throughout the school day.

TODAY reported on an elementary school in Fort Worth, Texas that has been inspired by Finland’s education system, which produces students who get the best scores internationally in reading, math and science. They are allowing kindergartners and first- graders to have four 15-minute breaks throughout the school day, three times longer than they are used to getting. Initially, teachers were nervous, however, the results have been astonishing. One teacher reported that her students were less fidgety and more focused in the classroom. They are listening with more intent and solving problems independently.

Sierra Nevada Journeys knows first-hand the power of getting children outside to observe and interact with nature.

In our Classrooms Unleashed program, our teachers go into the classroom three times to introduce science concepts that are aligned with state standards. They then take students on a eld trip outdoors. This is where we see students most engaged in learning with their peers and critically thinking about their surroundings.

Fifth and sixth-grade students get an extended outdoor classroom experience during our overnight outdoor school program at Grizzly Creek Ranch near Portola, Calif. Due to spending more time with our team, we see improvements in students who typically struggle in their indoor classroom setting.

Sierra Nevada Journeys’ Residential Program Director Megan Hollenbeck was a middle school teacher prior to getting into outdoor education. She once had a student who struggled in school and fought with his peers. After a rough school year, he had the opportunity to go on an outdoor education eld trip.

“While sitting in a circle under a large pine tree, this boy introduced himself with a big smile on his face,” said Hollenbeck.

As the week went on, he became highly engaged with his instructors and educational activities. “He was excited about learning,” said Hollenbeck. “I was so proud and happy for him that being in the outdoors was impacting his learning and social experiences.”

Outdoor education can be a turning point for students. When students’ mind, body and soul are aligned, it is more than likely you’ll begin to see improvements in school performance. Take the opportunity to bring your children and students outdoors and experience the benefits first hand.

For more information, visit www.sierranevadajourneys.org.