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A Walk in the Park Can Improve Reading Comprehension

By and — Nature Deficit Disorder Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Can an excursion around a pond, a stroll through a park, or a hike through the forest improve your child’s reading? You might be surprised! We have no doubt that reading, usually an indoor activity, can inspire children to spend time in nature. If you read outdoor adventure books aloud to your children, such as Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, Brian’s Winter, The River, or Brian’s Hunt or Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain, they may just want to try out their own survival skills in nature for a day or even spend a weekend camping out in the woods.

How Can Getting Kids Outdoors Improve Reading?

Reading is more than sounding out words or memorizing the author’s message. Reading is an interactive process between the child’s experiences and background knowledge and the author’s meaning as expressed by the printed words on the page. To have a deep understanding of the text, the reader and the author must have a shared general conceptual knowledge of the text’s ideas. There may also be shared personal experiences that readers have with authors that give them additional insights into the meaning of the text.

How Do Children Gain General Conceptual Knowledge?

Children learn concrete concepts and abstract concepts through multiple experiences and discussion with someone who is a little more knowledgeable. Concrete concepts include fish, tree, and decay while abstract concepts include evaporation, food webs, and photosynthesis.  

In nature, children learn concrete concepts using their senses to see, hear, touch, smell, and even taste.

  • During a stroll through the park, children may observe a bird building her nest from bits of grass and twigs.
  • They may remark on how a chipmunk and a squirrel are different.
  • Children can also see leaves changing colors.
  • Pointing out these features and talking about them will enhance children’s conceptual knowledge.

Abstract concepts are often learned through talking about observable phenomenon.

  • During an excursion around a pond in a gentle rain, children often ask many questions.
  • “Why do raindrops cause rings on water? “Do frogs get cold in the rain?”
  • “Where does the rain come from?” “Where does all the rain go?” 
  • These are hard questions that may lead to more reading to find the answers.
  • Without experience in the natural environment, children are much less likely to explore these types of questions.

Linking Concepts about Nature Leads to Building Bigger Ideas in Science

  • Many popular children's literature selections include science “big ideas,” concepts, and vocabulary.
  • Children who spend time outdoors have a higher likelihood of intuitively learning these ideas, which then can be brought to their reading and listening experiences.
  • For example, a quick examination of six classic children’s picture books illustrates how children’s concepts about nature can enhance the comprehension of these books. Find a list of these classic books at the end of this article.
  • When children come to the text with the listed concepts and big ideas, they will better understand the book and the author’s message.
  • Children’s conceptual knowledge will be enhanced by the information in the text.
  • Comprehension of future experiences in nature and future encounters with these concepts in text will be improved. On the other hand, without the prior conceptual knowledge, comprehension of the book may break down.
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