Elementary Schoolyard Landscapes As Outdoor Learning Environments: North Texas Stakeholders' Perceptions Of The No Child Left Inside Act
Bookout, Shawn Marie
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So that children can be exposed to a more stimulating outdoor educational experience, the United States public education system developed and implemented strategies to accomplish an integrative approach between indoor and outdoor learning (Gardner 1991; Wells and Evans 2003; Titman 1994; Moore 1986). One of these strategies is to allow for an enhanced connection between children and the outdoor environment through the betterment of school landscapes. As described by Wohlwill (1983), the outdoor environment is - that vast domain of organic and inorganic matter that is not a product of human activity or intervention. The purpose of this study is to obtain descriptive opinions from North Texas public school stakeholders regarding integration in their respective schools of the Federal No Child Left Inside Act of 2009 (NCLIA). The study explores the perceptions of administrators, school designers, and parents regarding the benefits of children's exposure to and interaction with the outdoor environment in general. This qualitative study provides a better understanding about the importance of incorporating the outdoor environment into children's educational experience in North Texas public schools. The No Child Left Inside Act aims to expand the understanding of public school stakeholders about the importance of outdoor experiences in elementary education. This initiative gives incentives to schools to encourage learning through various educational activities in the outdoor environment, which provides opportunities for children to enhance their physical abilities and intellectual development and to use multiple sensorial experiences to strengthen their learning. A connection with the outdoor environment has health, social, psychological, intellectual, and physical benefits for children (Kellert 2005; Louv 2008; Maller 2006; Malone 2003; Orr 1992; Taylor 2000; White 2004). Successful implementation of NCLIA strategies requires the cooperation and engagement from various sectors in the educational community, including administrators, teachers, and parents. The design of this research study combined a review of relevant literature with personal interviews. The interview sample was composed of 12 subjects, including four school principals, four school designers, and four parents. The sample represented schools that were built after introduction of the NCLIA in 2009. The study revealed that in only three of the schools do children use the outdoor environment extensively (the outdoor environment is an extensive part of the children's education experience). Half of the respondents expressed that the outdoor environment is only used for physical education (PE) and play, versus three other respondents who said that the outdoor environment is used mostly to teach science. The majority of the respondents, 11 out of 12, had no prior knowledge of the NCLIA, and only one had knowledge of the NCLI movement. The study further revealed that the NCLIA has not been implemented or adopted in North Texas schools. Half of the respondents perceived the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test as the main barrier for NCLIA adoption in schools. However, nine respondents expressed positive opinions about implementing the Act in their schools. The results of this study strengthened the importance of integrating the outdoor environment into class curriculums and general experiences of children in their schools. It also reinforced the need to establish and sustain NCLI design requirements in the scope of elementary school design planning.