Health topic: Mental Health Health Promotion Physical Activity

Embrace nature

What's it about?

Nature is all around us in Alberta—on school property, in the surrounding community, and beyond. This strategy is about heading outdoors and making the best possible use of nature, which includes:

  • Features of the school yard, like fields, hills, treed-in areas, plants, shrubs, and rocks
  • School and community gardens
  • Local pathways and trails
  • Municipal or provincial parks and other common land
  • Outdoor facilities in the community, like picnic sites, sports fields, parks, and green spaces
  • Nearby ponds, streams, rivers, and lakes

COVID-19 has sparked new interest and enthusiasm for moving school outdoors. Across Alberta, schools have shown us that learning in nature is not only possible; it may help students stay well in tough times. In fact, research confirms what many teachers have long suspected to be true: spending time in nature supports both physical activity and mental health.


What's involved?

Embracing nature weaves nature and the outdoors into instructional time, daily activities, and play and leisure at school. During COVID-19, be sure to incorporate routine public health practices, and contact your AHS public health inspector if you have questions.


Let learning bloom

Take stock of daily activities that typically happen indoors, and try moving them outside. It’s okay to start small. As students get more comfortable with learning outdoors, you can head out more often.

Here are some routine practices that may work well in nature:

  • Morning meetings, check-ins, and sharing circles
  • Read-out-louds, story-telling, or independent reading
  • Daily reflections, like journal-writing or drawing
  • Movement breaks and games to support Daily Physical Activity (DPA)
  • Rehearsals for oral presentations, music, or drama activities
  • Indigenous teachings, activities, and games
  • Mindful practices
  • Service learning activities
  • Enhancing curriculum-based instruction with natural elements, like studying rock foundations in Science or walking to community landmarks in Social Studies

For more ideas and practical advice, check out A teacher’s guidebook for bringing learning outside.


Learn from the land

The land is central to many Indigenous communities in Alberta. It nurtures life, connection, beauty, and identity. We give thanks for all of the gifts received from the land. Showing respect for the land is part of reconciliation.

Outdoor natural spaces provide unique venues for experiential learning together. Work closely with Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, families, and communities to explore and grow opportunities for land-based learning at school. Their guidance and support will help ensure that activities are respectful, authentic, and appropriate.

For stories and guidance on land-based learning in Alberta schools, visit:


Go wild and free

Provide students with unstructured time outside, such as free time within recess and other breaks, before-and-after school activities, and instructional time. Even just a few minutes of unstructured time in nature can be meaningful.

As much as feasible, provide students the freedom, space, and opportunity to be outside. Try to resist the temptation to organize or direct activities—students of all ages benefit from spending time in nature in ways that make sense to them. Younger students might dig holes, climb logs, or watch the clouds, while older students may talk, tell stories, or get active. With support, students can initiate these types of activities safely. Work together to set clear expectations for behaviour and supervision. 

Short on natural outdoor space?

Engage students about what they’d like to see when it comes to outdoor areas at school. They’ll likely have creative ideas on how to add natural elements to the school yard, or how to design outdoor spaces like classrooms, theatres, or sport fields. Ask them what they think about natural playgrounds over pre-fabricated ones.


Take a fresh look at school practices

Sometimes long-standing school practices can make it tough to get students outside. For example, norms and expectations around indoor recess on cold or wet days can make it hard to embrace nature in all types of weather.

Reflect on the practices and policies in place in your school and school authority. Engage and connect across the school community to identify possible solutions. Above all, research shows that families are important allies when it comes to helping students embrace nature. Here are some ways to grow support among parents and caregivers:


How it connects

Exposure to nature can increase play, physical activity, and help build social emotional skills in students of all ages. It also provides students with meaningful opportunities to connect with each other and with the land, and may improve mental health.

This strategy involves multiple components of the comprehensive school health framework, and comes to life with careful attention to the essential conditions.

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