Incorporating natural elements into the classroom may sound like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. There are countless simple steps any educator can take to make their students’ learning environment more calm and natural. Here are five ways to help get you started:
- Substitute plastic toys for items found in nature: while purchasing a tub of toys from the store might be more convenient, you’d be missing a golden opportunity to include nature in the classroom. Fill your sandbox or sensory bins with pinecones, shells, chestnuts, sticks, bark, or other things commonly found in the forest or on the beach. Incorporating nature into a child’s play will help establish a positive relationship with nature outside of the classroom.
- Dim the lighting: classrooms can often have unforgivably bright lighting, which some students can find distracting or unpleasant. First, I asked our school’s building maintenance to unscrew half of the fluorescent lights in my room. Then I brought in four small lamps and placed them near corners of the room. I’ve definitely noticed the calming effect this has had on my classroom, and it also helps to conserve energy!
- Decorate your classroom with nature-related crafts: student-made art is a staple for any classroom’s aesthetic, so what better way to add elements from nature than by using art supplies found in nature? Some examples would be making snow owls out of pinecones, or having students make letters of the alphabet out of sticks and stones—I took photos of the latter, and then printed out a set to hang in my classroom.
- Add plants: I know that adding plants to the classroom might sound like adding more work to your plate, but having actual plants present makes a big difference. I once sampled several of my students by showing them two photos of our classroom—one with plants on the tables and hanging by the windows, and one without any plants—and every student said they preferred the classroom with plants. Even when the students couldn’t specifically identify why they liked one more than the other, I noticed the trend.
- Get outside!: while it’s not always possible, actually taking students out into nature is the most obvious way for them to build a relationship with the natural world. You can bring nature into the classroom, but you can also take the classroom out into nature.
Remember that your classroom’s transformation is a process, and won’t happen overnight. Small gradual changes will seem less overwhelming for you, but will also help ease your students’ into their new surroundings.