The Effect of an Outdoors Nature-Based Intervention Program on the Development of Early Literacy Skills in Preschool Aged Children

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown, Hope College

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Evidence suggests that children who spend more time outdoors are healthier, happier and smarter (Kellert, 2005; Wells, 2000). The Ready For School initiative in Holland, MI joined with the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway to do a nature-based intervention program with preschools in the area. There were two groups of participants in this study: those in the experimental group in the outdoor intervention program, and those in the control group not given the outdoor intervention. The outdoor intervention program consisted of a nature lesson and exposure to the outdoors. The goal of the Ready For School initiative is “ensuring that every child from birth enters kindergarten prepared to succeed” (RFS, 2008). In addition, they “recognized early childhood education as the single-most important challenge facing our present and future development” (RFS, 2008). We looked to find a potential link between exposure to the outdoors and the development of early literacy skills in children between the ages of three and five. The GRTR! test designed by Lonigan and Whitehurst (2001) and modified by Molfese, Molfese, Modglin, Walker, & Neamon (2004) is a screening tool used to test the early reading skills of preschool aged children. The GRTR! test has three subtypes of questions: print knowledge, emergent writing and phonological awareness. A pretest/ posttest design was used in this study. The results of a Multivariate Analysis of Variance test show that there was a greater improvement of GRTR! scores in the outdoor group than the control group. The improvement from pretest to posttest in the ODC intervention group was 3.98 points on the GRTR! test compared to 2.71 points in the control group. This difference was statistically significant (F(2,103)= 5.620, df= 103, p=0.005, ƞp2=0.098). This shows that spending more time outdoors improves the development of early literacy skills in preschool aged children.


This research was supported through funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Kellogg Foundation.

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