Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Practice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Theresa Coble


Theresa Coble

Keith Miller

Carl Hoagland


This study focused on what values teachers saw in nature-based learning, what outcomes they saw for their students, and what factors have enabled them to do nature-based learning. This explanatory sequential mixed-methods study looked at nature-based learning in St. Louis elementary schools with kindergarten through second-grade students.

We used purposive sampling to choose six schools to examine further through case studies. We then conducted interviews with 8 teachers on qualities of nature-based learning captured in 12 words.

We identified five themes from our interviews and observations: Every School Needs a Nature Champion, Community Bridges in Nature-Based Learning, There is Magic in the Green Spaces, How Do You Get Kids Outside?, and What Happens When Kids Get Outside? We propose a pyramid of nature-based learning derived from these teacher interviews that illustrates key aspects of student outcomes.

In addition, we used a map that showed the amount of green space surrounding each school and we examined the role that available green space plays in schools offering nature-based learning.

We also examined the relationship between green space surrounding a school and the economic make-up of the students in the school, as to identify inequities in opportunities for nature-based learning in the St. Louis area.

We found a significant but very small negative relationship between free and reduced lunch percentages of these schools and their available green space. The idea of a school nature leader was a particularly important and fairly new finding in the research on nature-based learning. That school nature leader also needs to be able to leverage community partnerships to assist their efforts. Young elementary school students benefit in many ways from nature-based learning, and those benefits need to be touted to those in decision-making positions for schools and celebrated by all of us.