Using nature as a tool for social and emotional learning
With expanding research highlighting the benefits of spending time in nature, Heritage Conservancy, a not-for-profit conservation organization serving Bucks and surrounding counties, created a pilot program to explore the idea of using nature as a way to support students’ social and emotional learning (SEL). In partnership with Fairmount Water Works and with funding from the Alliance for Watershed Education, Heritage Conservancy began piloting the program at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Approximately 100 students in Keystone Elementary School in Bristol Township School District and Andrew Jackson Elementary School in the School District of Philadelphia are involved. The pilot program integrates the natural environment into programs and activities as a tool to support SEL, which offers a novel approach for schools to implement and combat growing mental health concerns.
Kati Bryson, a fourth grade teacher at Keystone Elementary School, is one of the teachers participating in the pilot study. Her students complete a feelings assessment before and after each activity, which could be walking in nature, listening to water noises and visualizing the scene, watching a video or journaling. “The activities focus on visualization and reflection on how things in nature make the students feel,” said Bryson. “It’s amazing to see. Around 75-85 percent of my students have an increase in positive feelings.”
The pilot program will continue into the 2021-22 school year and other schools or additional grade levels may participate as well. “We are so fortunate to have amazing teachers who have been willing to try out this new idea with us,” said Shannon L. Fredebaugh-Siller, community engagement programs manager at Heritage Conservancy. “Having teachers and students from first through fourth grade involved this past year has been wonderful and has helped us to explore ways that Heritage Conservancy can adapt the materials for different grade levels.”