Our Approach » Nature-Based Learning

Nature-Based Learning

Nature-Based Learning and Inquiry

Children are naturally curious and inspired by the world around them, especially the world outside. The outdoors offers an immensity and depth of exploration that is unmatched by nature-based indoor experiences. Children immersed in the outdoors during the different weather and seasons have a chance to encounter, experience, and utilize situations and moments that will continue to arise within their lifetime, including those involving risk, observation, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, empathy, and creative thinking.
The skills that each child develops and applies during these “nature moments” are foundational to higher-order thinking skill development because they are hands-on, in-the-moment experiences that are unique, involve all five senses, make an impression on the learning in the brain, and help form neural pathways.


Virginia Chance School’s progressive education approach allows for nature-based exploration to be integrated and a part of the natural learning process. Nature-based inquiry and theme studies allow for all aspects of the natural world to come into the classroom and for the classroom to be in the natural world.

Environmental stewardship also becomes a natural part of each child’s mindset when they have loved and appreciated the outdoors, learned why to care for the earth, and been active participants and problem-solvers in environmental learning.

Nature-Based Play and Learning help children:
Assess risk
Overcome fears
Challenge themselves in nature
Improve physical development
Reduce stress
Improve sensory development
Increase attention and focus
Develop cognitive, social and emotional learning

Outdoor Spaces and Natural Features

Our campus sits on 26 acres of woods, fields, and wetlands. These types of landscapes offer opportunities for students to make sense of the world around them through exploring systems, change over time, food production, seasonal changes, patterns, cause and effect, structure and function, and energy flow. Their discussions, questions, curiosity, and wonder propel exploration and further understanding. 

Chance School Campus consists of:
Preschool Garden
Native Orchard
Seasonal Vegetable Garden
Bird Blind
Goose Creek
Outdoor playground in a natural wooded environment
Chicken Coop/Rabbit Hatch
Compost bins
Classroom recycling and composting
Native Pollinator Garden and Monarch Weigh Station

How does Nature-Based Learning at Chance School work?

How does it hit both developmental milestones and encourage growth beyond the self? Find out about our unique and meaningful outdoor integration through our yearly stewardship projects at Chance School, championed by our Director of Environmental Program, Rachel Beck:
Nature nurtures us! Come on outside and play, learn, become an environmental steward, and love all that nature provides!

What does the research say?

Do Experiences With Nature Promote Learning? Converging Evidence of a Cause-and-Effect Relationship. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6401598/
Experiences with nature, ranging from wilderness backpacking to preschool plant observation and wetland lessons on frogs, have been claimed to promote learning. However, until recently, there was a lack of evidence to support these claims. The field has now matured, and hundreds of studies have been conducted on this topic. The evidence strongly suggests that nature experiences can enhance academic learning, personal development, and environmental stewardship. This review summarizes recent advances and the current state of our understanding. 
The research on personal development and environmental stewardship is compelling, although not quantitative. Reports from independent observers and participants themselves indicate shifts in perseverance, problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, and resilience. Similarly, over fifty studies suggest that nature plays a key role in the development of pro-environmental behavior, particularly by fostering an emotional connection to nature. 
In academic contexts, nature-based instruction outperforms traditional instruction. The evidence here is particularly strong, including experimental evidence, evidence across a wide range of samples and instructional approaches, outcomes such as standardized test scores and graduation rates, and evidence for specific explanatory mechanisms and active ingredients. Nature may promote learning by improving learners’ attention, levels of stress, self-discipline, interest and enjoyment in learning, and physical activity and fitness. 
Nature also appears to provide a calmer, quieter, safer context for learning; a warmer, more cooperative context for learning; and a combination of “loose parts” and autonomy that fosters developmentally beneficial forms of play. It is time to take nature seriously as a resource for learning enhancement.
“Although knowledge of how and why to conserve, which could presumably be taught in a classroom setting, has typically been assumed to drive stewardship behavior, it is relatively unimportant in predicting conservation behavior (). By contrast, an emotional connection to nature, which may be more difficult to acquire in a classroom, is a powerful predictor of children’s conservation behavior…”
Kuo, M., Barnes, M., & Jordan, C. (2019). Do Experiences With Nature Promote Learning? Converging Evidence of a Cause-and-Effect Relationship. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00305