Did you know that three-quarters of today’s children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates? And yet, time outdoors is hugely beneficial to children’s physical and mental health, not to mention their learning outcomes.
Learning outdoors is one way to redress the balance and help today’s kids to engage with the natural environment. Here, we take a look at some of the benefits of outdoor education, and offer up some ideas to help you provide an exciting outdoor learning environment for children.
HOW LEARNING OUTDOORS BRINGS BENEFITS
Many parents, children and teachers associate the outdoor environment with play and PE, rather than academic achievement. But an outdoor learning environment is also a stimulating and healthy backdrop for effective learning.
Here are some of the benefits of outdoor education:
- Calmer children: Artificial learning environments can act as stressors to the system, while green, natural spaces are automatically calming.
- Hands-on learning: Lessons like geography, biology and science take on a new significance when experienced right in the thick of nature. Instead of being yet more theory, pupils will respond to their physical environment and better engage with the topic.
- More movement: It’s healthy to move around, but many children spend the majority of the day sitting down. Getting up and outside will help children to learn in the way that feels instinctive to them, whilst improving health and fitness levels.
What schools can do to facilitate outdoor learning
Even if the benefits of outdoor learning are convincing, some schools may be reluctant to implement the changes needed to make it happen.
Teachers may worry that pupils will run riot when not enclosed in a secure space, or that they will struggle to be heard when out in the open air.
So here are some ideas to help make outdoor learning effective:
- Science lessons offer up excellent potential for outdoor learning – think mini field days within the school grounds. The Association for Science Education has lots of useful resources for outdoor lessons.
- Outdoor maths lessons could cover measuring distances, counting found objects and recognising different angles in nature.
- Modular classrooms can facilitate outdoor learning through easy access to an outside space, opening up the natural environment with large 7m folding doors that let in the natural light. These can act as a ‘half way house’ to the outside world if teaching indoors, or offer an ideal learning space for outdoor education, with a practical way to let the class outdoors in a dedicated outdoor learning space before bringing them back inside.
- Visiting local green spaces will encourage children to explore their environment and apply what they have learned to the places they visit. Being local, you will have the opportunity to incorporate these areas as a regular part of your teaching.
FIND OUT MORE
If you’d like to know more about the benefits of outdoor education and how to go about teaching outdoors, there is a large body of literature and support available. Try:
- The English Outdoor Council, for information and research on how outdoor education can benefit your pupils
- The Institute for Outdoor Learning runs workshops and courses on enabling outdoor learning.