NEW YORK: Conducting lessons outdoors amidst natural greenery can help students become more attentive and engaged during classes, a study has found.
Scientists have known for a while that natural outdoor environments can have a variety of beneficial effects on people.
People exposed to parks, trees or wildlife can experience benefits such as physical activity, stress reduction, rejuvenated attention and increased motivation.
In children, studies have shown that even a view of greenery through a classroom window could have positive effects on students' attention.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign in the US hypothesised that an outdoor lesson in nature would result in increased classroom engagement in indoor lessons held immediately afterwards.
"We wanted to see if we could put the nature effect to work in a school setting," said Ming Kuo, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
For the study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the researchers tested their hypothesis in third graders (9-10 years old) in a school.
Over a 10-week period, an experienced teacher held one lesson a week outdoors and a similar lesson in her regular classroom and another, more sceptical teacher did the same.
Their outdoor "classroom" was a grassy spot just outside the school, in view of a wooded area.
After each outdoor or indoor lesson, the researchers measured how engaged the students were.
They counted the number of times the teacher needed to redirect the attention of distracted students back to their schoolwork during the observation, using phrases such as "sit down" and "you need to be working".
The researchers also asked an outside observer to look at photos taken of the class during the observation period and score the level of class engagement, without knowing whether the photos were taken after an indoor or outdoor lesson. The teachers also scored class engagement.
The results show that children were more engaged after the outdoor lessons in nature.
Far from being overexcited and inattentive immediately after an outdoor lesson, students were significantly more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork.
The number of times the teacher had to redirect a student's attention to their work was roughly halved immediately after an outdoor lesson.
"Our teachers were able to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long at a time after the outdoor lesson. And we saw the nature effect with our sceptical teacher as well," Kuo said.