Supporting Nature in Schools, Part 1

Sara Kall, Nature School Teacher, Villa Elba Youth Center

One of the goals of my Fulbright project was not only to examine how Finnish schools incorporate break time into their schedules, but how much of that time is spent outdoors.

How do kids know what to do outdoors?

Do the teachers follow them around?

Do kids have to be strictly supervised?

Is there a difference between the activities of boys vs. girls?


To that end, my goal here in Finland has been not only to observe schools, but also nature organizations that might support outdoor learning and experiences.

I hit the lottery with the help of nature school teacher Maria Svens, who I reached out to before I even arrived in the country. Her article about the Finnish Outdoor Classroom gave me an overview of how organizations can support schools in teaching students about nature. Maria then connected me with Sara Kall from the Villa Elba Youth Center in Kokkola, Finland where I was fortunate to be able to spend two days shadowing this incredible nature school teacher.

The enthusiasm with which Sara showed for my visit was endearing. She provided me a long list of dates and activities that I might wish to observe.

6.3            5 yr olds, tracks in the snow  - program kept in the forest close to the kindergarten in Nykarleby (around 60 km from Elba)
6.3            Outdoor education workshop for kindergarten teachers, 1 hr
7.3            Icefishing and opening fish in the lab, fourth graders
8.3            Icefishing and opening fish in the lab, third graders
8.3            5 yr olds, spiders  - program kept in the forest close to the kindergarten in Edsevö (around 30 km from Elba)
9.3           Icefishing and opening fish in the lab, fourth graders
12.3         Icefishing and opening fish in the lab, third graders
13.3         Icefishing and opening fish in the lab, 2-6th graders
14.3         Icefishing and opening fish in the lab, third graders + one special education group
15.3         Icefishing, finnish group with Erasmus+-guests from Spain and Poland
16.3         Icefishing and opening fish in the lab, fifth graders
19.3         Icefishing and opening fish in the lab, third graders
20.3         Icefishing and opening fish in the lab, third graders

Of course I would want to see the Ice Fishing and the Outdoor Education Workshop for kindergarten teachers!


When I arrived, my arrival was listed on the calendar and Sara proceeded to give me a tour of the facilities.

Resource after resource, all dedicated to outdoor education was available to the staff at the center, where many schools schedule monthly daylong visits. Each school can choose whether to invest in this monthly outdoor educational experience with students, or a modified version of the service.

The Science Detective Kit

Tools for finding insects and animals, collecting specimens, and measuring tracks

Templates for identifying tracks

Snow shoes and extra clothing for the very cold elements

Nordic ski poles for the ice and snow

Galoshes for the snow and rain
The preparation for school visits requires a team of specialists, which the team in Villa Elba truly were. For ice fishing day, students walk from their schools to the Villa Elba dressed warmly and comfortably.

The staff conducts safety lessons before going out into the ice in Kokkola Bay, and then the class proceeds to travel on their ski chairs to the designated location. Sara demonstrated how to use one.



Mind you, the temperature was around 10 degrees F and there was a slight wind blowing over the bay. One of the teachers encouraged me to zipper my jacket up because it was going to be chilly.

Pre-lesson and safety demo

And they're off!

Appropriately dressed for the elements with safety picks hanging from their necks

Break time, even on the ice

I can tell you that warm juice in the middle of the frozen lake is the best thing you have tasted

Waiting for the fish, dressed like little rock stars!

Students are taught to catch and either release, eat, or donate to science lab


Finnish student gear for the cold

Outdoor education, outdoor chairs

Moomin gear
While talking to Vasa, the teacher on the ice that day, he looked around the bay and asked if I felt a sense of calm amidst the nature. He rejoiced in the quiet and beauty of the scene. We observed other locals ice fishing and he remarked that they had an uncanny ability to tell how safe the ice was, until even the day before it became unstable.

While I was freezing on the lake, the students and teachers were unperturbed. Becoming intimately involved with nature is an expectation that is written into the national Finnish curriculum. The degree to which each school implements the resources available is a local choice.

Implications for teachers in the US:


Not every lesson has to be created from scratch. There are databases, workshops, and conferences that we can explore to get ideas for outdoor education and break time. In fact, the whole idea of nature schools originated in the U.S. in the 1960's.

What does nature look like in your school? My school is in sunny Southern California, but in a very industrial area. Our yards have palm trees and shrubbery but not very much. And the UV index is often so high, it may not make sense to spend too much time in direct sunlight.
The Urban Garden

But finding areas of the school that can be enhanced through plants, plant walls, and small trees would be a start. Classrooms can benefit from the installation of these as well.

What makes these Finnish schools special is not what makes your particular school special. The students in South Central L.A. are not likely to go ice fishing as part of their school day. But they can take trips to our mountains, beaches, and deserts. What access to nature does your school have?

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