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    Beyond Four Walls: A Guide to Nature-Infused Classrooms

    Post by CDI Spaces
    December 21, 2023
    Beyond Four Walls: A Guide to Nature-Infused Classrooms

    “Let Nature be your teacher,” said the poet William Wordsworth. Bringing nature into the classroom doesn’t mean kicking your teachers out. A few simple changes to how we approach classroom design can give students an incredible advantage. 

    When students don't spend time in nature, they struggle to pay attention, get sick more often, and lose interest in learning. Classrooms can be turned into dynamic spaces full of everyday opportunities. A nature-infused environment can inspire students to engage with, explore, and enjoy it. When they are, learning outcomes improve along with their mental and physical health.

    In the intricate dance of education and environment, nature proves it has moves. Let’s explore the why and how of infusing educational spaces with the benefits of the great outdoors. 

    The Essence of Nature-Infused Classrooms

    Approaches to education, such as Reggio Emilia, focus on students leading their own learning. They also value the role of nature in educational settings. Design systems, such as biophilia, help us incorporate nature's wisdom into our buildings and interiors. 

    A biophilic classroom was created in a Baltimore City charter school for a Terrapin Bright Green study. This classroom was compared to a control classroom without biophilic design incorporated. Natural lighting in the room was increased, a garden was added outside the classroom window to improve the outdoor view, and wall graphics that mimicked nature patterns were added to the space. 

    Key Benefits of Bringing Nature In for Students

    Enhanced Cognition

    Nature-inspired design elements enhance student learning by improving focus, creativity, and memory. Students are encouraged to take refreshing breaks in a nature-filled classroom environment. Nature also sparks curiosity and encourages students to take risks, imagine, and innovate. 

    Students in the Terrapin Bright Green study reported that they were better able to concentrate on their school work. When it came to testing in the nature-infused space, both teachers and students felt less anxiety — and test scores improved. Many students credited the lighting and automatic shades for their improved focus. 

    Elevated Emotional Wellbeing

    In the biophilic classroom, students felt more relaxed and calm and had a greater sense of purpose in learning. Out of all the students in the biophilic classroom, 35% felt high stress. In comparison, 67% of students in the control classroom felt the same way.” The study also measured students' classroom involvement, feelings about the physical space, and lesson enjoyment. These metrics improved as students spent more time in the classroom. 

    “Nature is often overlooked as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life.” 

    – Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

    Creating a classroom that feels more natural and less plain can help students feel comfortable and safe. Students who feel safe and confident in class are more likely to enthusiastically participate and meaningfully contribute. 

    Improved Physical Health

    When students can move, explore, and interact with their environment, their physical health also improves. Simply cracking a window and adding more plants can enhance the classroom air quality. What goes on in the classroom can also motivate students to spend more time outside when not in school. Encouraging students to be active and enjoy the outdoors can bring lifelong learning, growth, and better health. 

    “Nature is a tool to get children to experience not just the wider world, but themselves.” 

    – Stephen Moss

    Using Classroom Design to Mimic a Natural Environment Indoors

    While redesigning your entire classroom to incorporate nature and adhere to biophilic principles may be challenging, it certainly pays off in holistic learning outcomes. Here are a few ways we love to bring nature into our clients’ classrooms.

    Bring in Natural Elements

    Students’ visual systems process natural imagery and fibers more efficiently, promoting focus. To bring more nature into the classroom, your furniture, decor, and even flooring can utilize wood and other natural materials. Details such as raw bark on classroom benches, knotty grains on tables, and natural prints and patterns applied to floors and walls can evoke an outdoor experience inside. 

    Adopt Varied Seating Arrangements

    Imagine exploring in the woods where there are no written rules about how to use space. A log becomes a seat. A tree beckons you to climb. Taking a note from nature, consider how your seating arrangements and options allow students to adapt the classroom to suit them. Modular furniture and pieces that offer flexible uses will get students moving and motivated. 

    Use Organic Shapes 

    Shelves, tables, chairs, and other classroom elements in more organic shapes can add to a soothing environment that feels more organic and inviting to students. Furniture that is angular can feel harsh, while curves, irregularities, and asymmetrical structures can inspire students to engage in new ways. 

    3 Ways to Implement Nature in Your Classroom Today

    You can start today by bringing a bit of nature into your classroom with these creative DIY ideas. 

    Use Natural Decor 

    Remove excessive teaching materials from the walls in your classroom and open up the blinds to bring more natural light in. Encourage students to contribute earth-toned artwork to replace them. You can also take your students for a walk in the nearby woods for a photo shoot and use their photos to decorate your classroom. Plant gardens or window boxes outside classroom windows for a more exciting view of nature. 

    Provide Interactive Opportunities

    Depending on the age of your students, you may find it helpful to create a space where students are free to interact with natural materials. For younger students, this might be a water table, sensory bin with shells and sand, or sticks to stack. For older students, create a space to stack flat rocks into temporary sculptures, place a cave-like reading nook in a corner of the classroom, or adopt a classroom creature to observe in a terrarium. 

    Simple Sensory Experiences

    Add Simple Sensory Experiences

    Nature soundtracks, meditations, and awe-inspiring videos can infuse any classroom with a bit of nature. Small water fountains can be added as an aesthetic and sensory element in one. Dried flowers, herbs, and citrus peels can be hung as decorations, and their natural aromas can soothe nervous students. Allowing fresh air in through windows is a simple way to invite nature into your classroom, too.

    While nature may be the only classroom without four walls — that doesn’t mean you can’t bring the magic of it into yours. In today's high-tech world, students need a connection with nature to bring balance to their lives. 

    Transform your classroom with nature’s touch. Meet with a CDI design consultant to explore innovative, nature-inspired solutions today.



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