There's a Buzz in the Air For Outdoor Education. But Are We Missing Something?

Updated: Apr 24, 2019


Outdoor education has a long history. But sadly it's not always received the kudos it deserves. For too long it's been sidelined as a "nice to have" or a once-a-year box ticking exercise in the busy school calendar. But now there's an unmistakable buzz in the air for outdoor education, and it's truly inspiring and refreshing to see!



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More and more, parents and teachers are realizing just how vital it is that children are regularly exposed to nature, and better connected to the living world in childhood.

A Renewed Buzz For Outdoor Education


More and more, parents, teachers and policy makers are realizing just how vital it is that children are regularly exposed to nature, and better connected to the living world in childhood. The many benefits for children are now well-documented. Outdoor education helps children to build wide-ranging knowledge, skills and talents, while also helping them stay physically active and healthy.


"Diversity of human intelligence must be at the forefront of 21st Century education, encompassing learning inside and outside the classroom to maximize youth potential for a brighter future."

So with renewed enthusiasm for outdoor learning, it's now time to ask how we could create an education system that fully embraces the benefits of experiential learning outside the confines of the classroom (or 'informal education'). The idea is not to replace classroom learning (or 'formal education'); there will always be an important need for formal teaching and learning.



Instead, the time has come to better connect formal and informal education using a joined-up, integrated approach that maximizes learning, while better preparing young people for the challenges and uncertainties of the 21st Century.


Nurturing Children's Unique Talents


Let's start with how to nurture children's unique talents and gifts in today's education system. We must learn to value and celebrate the many diverse types of human intelligence that exist, particularly in the case of learning outside the classroom. Hands-on learning lends itself perfectly to building a broad range of skills and abilities through real-world, meaningful and authentic learning experiences.


There are at least eight known types of human intelligence, widely accepted among psychologists. These include abilities like logical reasoning, speaking (or verbal) intelligence and musical gifts, for example. Each of us possesses one or more type of intelligence (often referred to as talents or gifts), which we might realize ourselves through our achievements or have pointed out to us by parents, teachers and peers during the course of our lives.


A basketball star on the high school team demonstrates a high degree of movement (or kinestetic) intelligence by using his muscles, balance and technique very effectively to score points against his opponents. A gifted mathematics student shows a high degree of logical reasoning, allowing her to solve complex puzzles and mathematical problems. A socially dynamic student, with the ability to connect and collaborate with peers, shows high interpersonal intelligence.


What's clear is that educating the 'whole child' really is the key to successful education in the 21st Century, and that requires a broader recognition and celebration of the diverse gifts and talents that children possess.


Are We Ignoring the Diversity of Human Intelligence?


We can all grow and enhance our skills and abilities in a variety of ways during our lifetimes, as we embark on a journey of lifelong learning. Each of us has one or more unique talents or gifts that help us to excel in certain fields, activities and pastimes. However, most schools and education systems worldwide cater adequately for perhaps just two or three types of human intelligence.


"We must learn to value and celebrate the many diverse types of human intelligence that exist, particularly in the case of learning outside the classroom. Hands-on learning lends itself perfectly to building a broad range of skills and abilities through real-world, meaningful and authentic learning experiences."

Instead, we must broaden the remit of education for the 21st Century to help ensure that we truly maximize the learning potential of the next generation. Being taught to count, read and write is just one vital piece of a much bigger puzzle; modern education must go far beyond building basic numeracy and literacy skills.


Cultivating Nature Smarts


An important form of intelligence that's often sidelined in youth education is 'naturalistic intelligence' or nature smarts. This type of intelligence connects us to the natural world by enabling us to identify plants and animals, and recognize patterns and changes in nature. This form of intelligence would have been vital for the survival of our early human ancestors.



But is naturalistic intelligence still relavent in our modern era of fast food, 24hr convenience stores and rapid technological advancement? The answer is a resounding "yes!", and I will now explain exactly why this is.


Creating a World of Curious Minds


Many of the world's most renowned scientists had high naturalistic intelligence, which would have helped them to discern patterns in the universe in their work. Think of towering giants in science such as Darwin, Einstein, Newton and Hawking. These extraordinary minds changed our understanding of science beyond measure and helped us get a few steps closer to uncovering many of nature's greatest mysteries. Studying nature in childhood encourages children's curiosity and interest in learning.


Creating Tomorrow's Environmental Stewards


Nowadays children are fast becoming less and less connected with the natural world and more and more connected to smart devices. Actively getting children outdoors to experience the living world with their own senses is vitally important to building a healthy and resilient human society. It helps improve children's health and wellbeing at a time when youth obesity and mental health problems are reaching epidemic proportions.


What's more, developing nature smarts through hands-on learning helps to create a new generation of environmental stewards. With global biodiversity collapsing and climate change increasingly impacting upon communities worldwide, connecting children with nature is now more important than ever before!


Nature is an Engineer


Nature-inspired engineering is increasingly important for design and technology applications in research and industry. Perfected over the ages through natural selection to effectively use energy, matter and space, and to sustain life, the natural world is replete with solutions to age-old problems that could provide solutions to our engineering, technological and biomedical endeavors. Intimately studying and understanding the inner workings of the living world makes a lot of sense. Why re-invent the wheel, when you have millions of years of evolutionary trial and error at your disposal?


Nature-inspired engineering is increasingly important for design and technology applications in research and industry.

Human Intelligence & 21st Century Education


So let's work towards integrating formal and informal education together to build a healthier, more sustainable and more resilient society. Diversity of human intelligence must be at the forefront of 21st Century education, encompassing learning inside and outside the classroom to maximize youth potential for a brighter future for the individual learner, for wider society and for the natural environment on which we all rely on for our continued survival.



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