Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

School Counselor Roles and Opportunities in Promoting EcoWellness: Integrating Nature Connection in K-12 Settings

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

School Counselor Roles and Opportunities in Promoting EcoWellness: Integrating Nature Connection in K-12 Settings

Article excerpt

Research across disciplines demonstrates that contact with nature positively impacts human development across the life span (Frumkin et al., 2017; Gill, 2014). This multidisciplinary research has inspired leaders of international grassroots initiatives to promote equitable childhood contact with nature to advance K-12 academic achievement, optimal wellness, and environmental values (Children & Nature Network, 2018a). In response, the U.S. Department of Education offers the Green Ribbon Schools sustainability initiative (The Center for Green Schools, 2018) and proponents of the green schoolyards movement advocate for the development of outdoor school learning environments where children can engage in hands-on learning and play (Green Schoolyards America, 2018). Researchers have found that nature in the school context contributes to multiple indicators related to optimal student wellness and learning. For example, access to nature in school has been associated with student emotional well-being, interpersonal cohesiveness, and self-esteem (Dyg & Wistoff, 2018); reductions in behavioral problems and greater resilience (Chawla, Keena, Pevec, & Stanley, 2014); and decreases in sedentary behaviors in students (Rees-Punia, Holloway, Knauft, & Schmidt, 2017; Sharma-Brymer & Bland, 2016). Moreover, nature contact has been shown to increase positive feelings toward school (Fifolt, Morgan, & Burgess, 2017), foster creativity in preschool-aged children (Kochanowski & Carr, 2014), expand student engagement (Kuo, Browning, & Penner, 2018; Truong, Gray, & Ward, 2016), and boost academic outcomes (Camasso & Jagannathan, 2018; Ruiz-Gallardo, Verde, & Valdes, 2013). Nature contact at school also promotes the development of pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors (Tucker & Izadpanahi, 2017). A host of resources exist to help school-based professionals interested in implementing nature contact (Children & Nature Network, 2018b), but minimal scholarly work has been dedicated to the human-nature connection in field of school counseling.

School counselors are in a unique position to champion nature connection in schools and communities to promote holistic wellness and learning. Their efforts can be guided by student standards, such as the ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2014), through which school counselors can connect nature-based curriculum to student outcomes. EcoWellness, a construct developed in the counseling literature (Reese & Myers, 2012), is one possible framework for strategically infusing nature throughout the school counseling curriculum. We discuss strategies for school counseling practice and implications for school counselor preparation and research.

Counseling With School-Aged Children and Nature

A variety of nature-based counseling approaches have been developed outside of school counseling. Example approaches include animal-assisted therapy (Fine, 2015), horticultural therapy (Haller & Capra, 2016), and wilderness therapy (White, 2015). Proponents of these approaches commonly view nature as a cofacilitator in the counseling process, and although they are effective in addressing mental health disorders in outpatient settings (Dobud & Harper, 2018; Soga, Gaston, & Yamaurac, 2017; Wilson, Buultjens, Monfries, & Karimi, 2017), investigations exploring the effects of these modalities in school counseling have been minimal.

To date, the research conducted on nature-based approaches in school counseling has primarily included responsive services (i.e., small group and individual counseling). Swank and Swank (2013) conceptualized school gardens as one possible way to address the social/emotional, academic, and career domains of the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2012). They described the specific therapeutic elements of garden therapy as including planning the garden, preparing materials, planting, maintaining, and harvesting. …

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