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Nature-Based Physical Activity in PE

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Connections With Land While Promoting Physical Activity

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer (and for many - I hope you are enjoying your winter!). Before the end of July comes to an end, which for most of you it has already, a blog is finally here for July.


As many teachers, especially international educators, head back to teach in August, this blog will look at another possibility for physical educators to include in their day-to-day teaching and/or build a unit (or units) around in the upcoming school year. The focus of today’s blog is on nature-based physical activity (NBPA). Hopefully by the end of this read, you will know the following about nature-based physical activity:

  1. What nature-based physical activity is

  2. Some of the benefits of nature-based physical activity

  3. How one might implement nature-based physical activity in a PE program

  4. Some activities that teachers might use to implement nature-based physical activity

  5. Some potential barriers when implementing nature-based physical activity

What is nature-based physical activity?

Nature-based physical activities or NBPA are physical activities performed in natural environments that require little to no equipment, can be participated in by the majority of students, are cost-efficient, and can be implemented by PE teachers frequently throughout the school year (Gruno & Gibbons, 2021). These activities strengthen the connection between students and the place where they live (Aucoin, 2011). These nature-based physical activities are done in green areas on or near school grounds within the timeframe of one PE lesson (Gruno & Gibbons, 2020).


Isn't that outdoor education?

Although similar to outdoor education, nature-based physical activities are more accessible to students in PE (Gruno & Gibbons, 2020). Outdoor education programmes often offer overnight adventures while nature-based physical activities are "microadventures" (Gruno & Gibbons, 2020) that are close to school, cheap, short, and effective while still having challenge, fun, escapism, and be a memorable learning experience (Humphreys, 2014). In a study conducted by Grunon & Gibbons (2021), teachers shared that nature-based physical activities are more accessible for student population. Additionally, one teacher communicated that nature-based physical activities are more experiential and depend less on equipment, while outdoor education focuses more on building skills and planning for overnight trips.


What are some benefits of nature-based physical activity?

As seen by the visual included below - the benefits of nature-based physical activities is endless!


Two I would like to focus on are nature connectedness and providing access to a lifetime physical activities that may carry over into adulthood.


Nature connectedness is how one feels with nature, one sense of care for nature, and an individual's commitment to the protect nature (Schultz, 2002). An individual is more connected with nature is more likely to visit local green spaces and meet physical activity guidelines (Flowers et al., 2016). Engaging in NBPA can also increase in awareness of environmental problems and a commitment to the protection of recreation sites (Wolsko et al., 2019).

Indigenous Peoples have been educating their youth in nature for many, many years. Much of the First Peoples Principles of Learning speaks to the importance of place and nature. Learning outside, through nature-based physical activities, aligns with cultural traditions and helps individuals to better understand characteristics of Indigenous knowledge and traditions (Chrona, 2023).


Providing access to a lifetime physical activities that may carry over into adulthood is the goal of many physical educators. Team games may play an insignificant role in guiding children and youth to become physically active for their lifetime (Ham et al., 2009). Garriguet and Colley (2014), found that adults in Canada engaged in daily activity mainly through activities performed outside, such as walking and gardening. There is less emphasis on competition in comparison to other activities in PE which includes team sports (Gruno & Gibbons, 2021). Competition has been reported as a contributing factor to girls' decreased participation in PE (Walseth et al., 2017). Perhaps there is a disconnect between what is being offered in many PE programs and what adults are participating in as adults...?

What are some tips to successfully implementing nature-based physical activity in a PE progamme?

Gruno & Gibbons (2021) outline some valuable tips on how you might start implementing nature-based PA in your PE programme (see above visual). The authors also shared helpful resources such as:


What are some activities teachers might use when implementing nature-based physical activity?

There are a wide-variety of nature-based physical activities that can be used. Remember that the equipment used (if any) should be minimal, it should be accessible for students in their local community (e.g. NOT taking a 2 hour bus ride to a cave to rock climb), and should take place during the span of a PE lesson. See the visual (again) for some activity ideas provided by Gruno & Gibbons (2020, 2021).


What are some potential barriers when implementing nature-based physical activity?

Like anything, there are some (potential) barriers when implementing nature-based physical activity in PE. Gruno & Gibbons (2021) identified the following barriers:


Teacher Confidence and Competence - Teachers sometimes feel like they do not know everything in nature and in physical activities performed in nature. Taking on the role of facilitator is important and educators can take on the role of an inquirer alongside the students on one another's learning journey.

Safety and risk management - School could be located in a very violent area so access to safe green spaces may not exist. Especially true for international teachers, high levels of air quality index (AQI) may limit participation outside due to high (and very unhealthy) air pollution levels.

Lack of support - Some administrators may not support something they do not know much about. Advocate for nature connection and the benefits it will have on your school community.

Funding, transportation, and accessibility - To avoid this - have simple tasks that require no equipment. NBPA should be able to be completed within a PE lesson. Access to green spaces can be an issue especially when living in areas where green spaces are uncommon. Funding and transportation then become needed to access the green spaces which can make things difficult.

School Structure - Teachers in the Gruno & Gibbons (2021) study had difficulty linking NBPA to curriculum, and justifying the link to parents. The broadness of many curricula around the world should help remove this barrier as, at the very least, social outcomes can be achieved through NBPA.

Student beliefs - It was reported that the elite athletes preferred the competitive, team sports rather than NBPA. I'd suggest making personal connections to these "elite" athletes sport(s) of choice during NBPA may make the learning experience more relevant and worthwhile.


Some final thoughts/questions

As you are putting the finishing touches on units for the upcoming school year, or if that is already done, as you are thinking about changes you might make this school year to benefit the greater good of your classroom and school community, be intentional about nature-based activities. How might you go about including NBPA in a unit? Can you create a unit (or more) based around NBPA? How might you encourage your faculty to include more NBPA into their teaching and learning (e.g. science, mathematics, etc.)? Is there someone on your staff who is currently doing this?


Membership Plan

If you want more information about what the website offers (both free and paid), check out the post here. We have added a Department Member option to support PE teams (up to 5 members of PE department for a reduced cost). Receive 20% off all membership options when using the the coupon code: SUMMERSALE. The deal concludes at the end of August.


Thanks for reading!

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