Perceptions of using School Grounds to Provide Outdoor Experiences in Wisconsin's Green and Healthy Schools
Burton, Brent P.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources
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Outdoor experiences have been found to positively benefit schools by increasing student health, improving academic performance, and supporting behavior management. However, when trying to decide the best way to approach outdoor experiences, schools face a myriad of barriers, such as financial cost or time commitment, to get their students outside. One resource available to schools is the use of their own school sites as areas for outdoor learning. However, using school sites is not without barriers itself and it is important for schools to understand the challenges that the schools’ staff may face in utilizing their grounds. A qualitative multicase study was designed to examine how different school staff positions viewed the barriers and support for outdoor experiences in schools. Three public elementary schools that demonstrated a commitment to green school grounds were chosen for the study by reviewing application data collected from the Wisconsin Green and Healthy Schools program. Administrators, teachers, and site managers from these schools were then interviewed to determine what barriers and supports impacted the school in providing outdoor experiences. Data was analyzed using an open-coded process to develop an emergent coding framework of themes and subthemes. The results showed that the three staff roles shared similar views of the benefits, barriers and supports to outdoor experiences. Even in green school programs, barriers such as time and limits of the curriculum were found to impede outdoor opportunities. The findings of this study suggest that there are ways schools can improve their school sites and outdoor instruction to maximize their students’ opportunities to be in nature. To help reduce barriers and encourage supportive actions, recommendations based off of the paper’s findings, such as encouraging green projects that involve the students, are suggested.