Day two: The benefits of the outdoors in application

This is part of my Outdoor Calendar block of lessons/worksheets. It follows the “value of nature” lesson and assumes the learners have read the assigned reading… or are at least willing to have the content of the text repeated to them.

After warming up the group — fortunately, this is a time of year when the warm-up is often something along the lines of “are you a fan of this cold?” and that’s a topic we can come back to later — I generally plan to start the conversation with “who read the homework text? How difficult was it to understand?”

An important point here is that, if students struggled with any part of the text, it’s the author’s fault, not the reader’s. (Feel free to contact me with any improvements I can make, or just to say where I should make improvements.)

From that point, I generally plan a conversation that goes along this way:

  • Was anyone surprised at the health value of being outdoors? Or is it more surprising to you that scientists even need to prove it, like proving that sugar is sweet?
  • Have you heard of shinrin-yoku?
    • It’s Japanese for “forest bathing” (this could be a good time to talk about bathing and sunbathing, too).
    • Some doctors in Japan prescribe “forest bathing” for high blood pressure, to reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and to improve overall feelings of wellbeing.
    • Is this a good idea? Or nonsense? Do you think people should be outside without a prescription from the doctor? Or, is it nice that doctors don’t immediately prescribe medicines? (This is a point in the conversation where I’m generally ready to say that I appreciate that doctors in Germany prescribe drugs less often than American doctors.)
    • Are there other situations where you would prescribe “forest bathing?” (Here, I’m ready to volunteer that winter is hard for me, and getting outside helps me prevent “winter depression.”)
  • There is another situation where contact with nature makes people’s lives better. Can you guess what it is? (There could be a lot of answers to this, or none.)
    • The answer is prisons!
    • Inmates–prisoners–don’t even get access to what you and I think is “real nature.” But, in a study, just pictures of nature — including videos of forests that inmates could see for half an hour per day — reduced the number of problems between prisoners and their guards.
      • Is this the reason we all have green plants in our offices? Because work is like a prison?
      • Are there other situations where you often feel stress? (Subway stops, dentists’ offices, school, the office, in the bus) Would adding images of nature make these places less stressful? (My favorite example: one of my students goes to a dentist who has a video on the ceiling above the dentist’s chair. He shows forest videos to patients while he works on their mouths.)
  • If we agree that getting outside is good for us… Where are good places to go outside now, in winter? What do you look for in winter? (This can be amenities, like paved paths, or scenery like snow) What do you want to avoid? (Muddy parking places is a good suggestion)
  • What can we see in the forest in the winter, is there anything to look for? (Here, we’re setting up the next reading assignment.)
  • Here’s a text about some of the things we can see in the winter. Pass out the next worksheet: What can you see in the winter.

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