School kids are more creative in natural environments

We know school kids do better on tests when they have views of nature, but now research from Curtin University has found exposure to nature also helps with more creative tasks like poetry.

Ninety-seven primary school children in Australia and England were tasked with writing poetry about nature, and were either placed in outdoor or indoor groups. The outdoor classes visited natural bush or forest environments, while the indoor class viewed A4 laminated images of the same bush or forest setting.

 The results were definitive.

 “We found that students who had direct contact with nature by immersing themselves in a bush or forest setting were much more descriptive and vivid in the language they used than the classroom-based writers who ‘imagined’ being in nature through photos,” Dr Paul Gardner from Curtin’s School of Education said.

 Dr Gardner said there was a much higher and richer level of imagery amongst the “outdoor” groups, compared with the “indoor” groups, which suggested that learning in natural environments could “enhance creativity and language development”.

Curtin researcher Sonja Kuzich said the results were striking, with twice as many English students in forest settings using figurative language (such as similes and metaphors) compared with the indoor group.

In Australia, four times as many kids used figurative language in the bush-based setting compared with the indoor group.

 “Our results showed that being in a natural environment resonated with the kids finding their poetic voices, drawing on inspiration from what they experienced,” Ms Kuzich said. 

“Some of the student’s descriptions about their natural experiences included ‘it was like walking on marshmallow ground’, ‘sharp pine cones like grenades’ or ‘crows that bark like a dog’.”

The researchers said further study with larger groups should be conducted to gain greater understanding of the influence of natural spaces and “green learning” in schools, and whether green learning could be translated into other contexts.

 The research, Green writing: the influence of natural spaces on primary students’ poetic writing in the UK and Australia, was published in the Cambridge Journal of Education.

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