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  • Writer's pictureJenn Jordan

Nature and Adolescents - Part 1: Executive Function Skills

  • Executive Function Skills

  • Moral Development

  • Sustainable Lifestyle

What do these things have in common? They all benefit from students spending time in nature as part of our program at the Earth School.

Executive Function Skills

If you aren't familiar with this term, I'm sure you are familiar with the skills themselves. These are skills which are critical to student and adult success:

  • self-awareness

  • impulse control

  • nonverbal working memory (short-term memory related to sensory and spatial information)

  • verbal working memory (short-term memory related to speech and language)

  • emotional regulation

  • motivational regulation

  • planning and problem-solving

Adolescence is a key time for their development as the prefrontal cortex of the brain matures. Developing good executive function skills requires practice which our Montessori environment gives students lots of opportunities to do.

Also, recent research indicates that exposure to nature can have a positive impact on executive function. The researchers found that besides it's other benefits (decreasing anxiety, increasing physical health, etc.) walking in a natural setting can also boost executive function skills. The research on which this is based had participants take walks, (without electronics or talking with others). Some participants were in natural settings while others were in very urban settings. Those who walked in natural settings saw a significant boost in executive function tests scores.

Think about your own high school or work experiences. I know that both as a teacher and a student, I've often spent winter weeks in windowless rooms under artificial lights, arriving before sunrise and leaving after sunset. That's not a healthy way to live, and it's definitely not healthy for minds and bodies which are still developing.

Montessori secondary schools already knew this. Montessori herself said that adolescents should have ample time outdoors. At Earth School, we believe that healthy adolescent development is best achieved through direct connection with nature.

Modern Montessori secondary programs incorporate something we call "Solo Time." This is a time where students are guided in mindfulness practices which help them unplug from the stresses of social and online interactions. One of the best ways to do this is to take a walk in nature.

At Earth School we've chosen our location carefully. Our classrooms have huge windows which help bring light and nature in, creating a serene learning environment.

Although we are in the heart of Columbus, our one acre property, connected as it is with forested areas of Ohio Dominican University, is already home to a stream, mature trees, deer, wild birds and more. Not only will these natural areas be actively explored to study science and write poetry, but they will be a place to relax and reconnect with nature and with ourselves.

One of our projects in these first few years of operation will be to further transform our own space to become a refuge for native plants and animals. Through partnerships and grants from Wild Ones and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wild Schools program, our students will design, cultivate, learn about and enjoy the many benefits of our natural landscape, benefiting from these projects both to actively exercise their executive function skills and to give them time to unplug from the stresses that interfere with healthy development. Isn't that the high school experience every student deserves?

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