Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

Major Professor

William R. Nugent

Committee Members

William R. Nugent, Patricia Bamwine, Kasey Henricks, Stephen McGarity


In response to the Grand Challenges for Social Work, and in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this dissertation aims to introduce outdoor learning experiences in public schools as a multifaceted intervention that improves both childhood health and educational systems. This research contributes to the body of literature that supports outdoor teaching and learning in schools to improve education, but is the first known to introduce outdoor learning as an intervention to promote childhood health and wellness in schools. Literature that addresses the benefits to health after time spent in nature is abundant with measurable improvements to health. Using this literature for support, and in combination with the literature about improvements to schools after the integration of outdoor teaching and learning, this research introduces outdoor learning experiences in schools as an intervention with the potential to improve the education children receive while simultaneously improving student health and wellbeing. A scoping literature review was conducted to explore the current state of outdoor teaching and learning in U.S. schools. Major gaps in research, implementation, and support for outdoor learning were identified. Following the principles of community-based participatory research and a research and development design, research was conducted to design and introduce an implementation protocol and an educator training for teaching outdoors. Long-term research goals include the revisions of these research products to create a standard implementation protocol that supports the advocacy for policy that mandates outdoor teaching and learning in schools and leads to a shift in school culture. Outdoor learning experiences in schools have the potential to simultaneously improve education and student health which would greatly improve the childhood experience with lasting benefits into adulthood.

Available for download on Saturday, May 15, 2027

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