Nurture Through Nature

Educators and designers alike are in constant search of the perfect learning environment, and outdoor learning spaces are the next educational frontier. With modern society becoming increasingly tech-driven, simply “getting back to nature” can be paramount to a child’s creativity, cognition, and overall health. Recognizing the benefits of outdoor learning, programs such as the Boston Schoolyard Initiative have established precedents throughout the city, and firms like SMMA are challenging traditional educational-delivery norms by incorporating outdoor classroom spaces into their designs. 

Our K-12 Studio designs 21st century buildings aimed at helping students and teachers overcome educational barriers through learner-centric environments. Schools that supplement the built environment with spaces for outdoor learning promote the Four C’s of 21st century skills:  Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.

Design strategies such as nature walks, bioswales, outdoor classrooms, and vegetable gardens provide learning experiences not achievable in traditional classroom settings, and also accommodate a variety of learning styles (hands-on, peer-to-peer, etc.). Students are able to engage with nature by recording seasonal changes, sketching, conducting experiments, and cultivating gardens. During break periods, outdoor classrooms double as gathering spaces for lunch, casual peer interaction, and relaxation. 


  • Outdoor learning area at Grafton High School

The American Society of Landscape Architects has expanded on the ways that nature can aid in a student’s education by improving general well-being. Nurturing a biophilic connection to the outdoors has been shown to offset the effects of ADD/ADHD, depression, cognition difficulties, and nature-deficit disorder.

Get Out, Get Active

In a study printed in Environment and Behavior, researchers found “that spending even a short amount of time outside is restorative and reverses temporary issues of fatigue and concentration,” and several additional studies have recognized an inverse relationship between an individual’s access to greenspace and rates of depression. Further, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has linked childhood obesity and a deficiency of vitamin D, which often correlates to a lack of exposure to outdoor activities. Establishing a school garden program is one way to gets students outside and active, while promoting healthy eating habits and sustainable practices.

Laying the Groundwork for Future Health

As students explore their outdoor classrooms, they are able to establish a beneficial, ideally life-long relationship with nature, all while utilizing a new set of educational tools and fostering a renewed enthusiasm for learning. Schools that incorporate these spaces into their curricula are both affording their pupils an expanded learning environment and encouraging healthier, happier student life.

Garden allotment at elementary school in Massachusetts
  • Bioswale outside a school in Massachusetts
  • Outdoor allotment at Bancroft high school in Massachusetts
  • Patio and plants in high school grounds