As many people on Minnesota’s North Shore know, spending time outdoors is not only beneficial for your physical health but for your mental health as well.
The health benefits are even more apparent in younger individuals.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education, exposing children to nature and outdoor classes at an early age can increase well-being, sustained attention, and focus. Additionally, being outdoors can benefit children who may have experienced trauma or other life stressors.
Kindergarten through fifth grade in Cook County ISD 166 have enjoyed some of these benefits. The 2022-23 school year was the first year that students from kindergarten through fifth grade could participate in an outdoor environmental education class.
“The course focuses on familiarizing children and giving them a basic working knowledge of how to safely explore and interact with nature,” said Mike Theismann, teacher of outdoor environmental education at ISD 166.
Theismann said students participate in active-based games and research-based lessons. “We’ve had some time indoors, but 90% of the time we’re outside in the school woodland area unless the weather doesn’t permit,” he said. and other outdoor safety tips.
Theismann said he has worked at various youth centers and campus recreation programs in Duluth and Superior for the past decade. He is completing his Masters of Education from the University of Minnesota – Duluth in the Environmental Education program.
He said he uses his outdoor experience to help ISD 166 students “build coping skills and healthy hobbies and friendships.” He added, “I just see a lot of value in it.”
“I’ve seen a lot of excitement and enthusiasm in young groups,” Theismann said. He mentioned that several middle and high school students had inquired about the outdoor class and wished they had a similar opportunity.
Looking to the future, Theismann would like to extend the program to all ISD 166 students and start an outdoor club.
Regardless of what lies ahead for Theismann and the outdoor environmental education course, he said if there’s one thing students can take away from his class it would be “that they develop a love and appreciation for the outdoors.”
WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke to Mike Theismann, the outdoor environmental educator at ISD 166, about the new course. Audio from the interview is below.