Updated: Mar 1, 2019
For thousands of years, children have learned through outdoor play and essential lessons for survival have come from both instinct and from older, more experienced family members and teachers.
In a similar way to lion cubs playing to test their limits and find their place in the pride, humans need outdoor play and learning experiences for successful child development. This includes developing brain functioning, bodily coordination (e.g. balance, posture, agility etc.) and social skills among many other critical skills and abilities.
"Physical activity is quite literally a 'miracle cure' and learning outside the classroom...is a big driver for getting children moving and exercising (Royal College of Physicians, 2012)"
Crisis in Youth Health & Wellbeing
In modern society, children need these lessons and experiences just as much now as they did ten thousand years ago to grow into healthy, active adults. However, in many developed countries there is a rapidly emerging health and wellbeing crisis among young people.
Beginning in the 1990s, a worrying obesity epidemic has emerged and recent research also suggests that youth mental health issues are on the rise. One cause of this trend is almost certainly related to a lack of physical exercise among children and adolescents. So how can we tackle this problem?
Physical activity is quite literally a 'miracle cure' and learning outside the classroom, according to the Royal College of Physicians, is a big driver for getting children moving and exercising. The truth is that outdoor learning and exercise go hand in hand. So the key question is: Should structured learning outdoors form a part of every child's school day?
Nowadays we have formal education encompassing a wide range of educational philosophies and institutions. However, most mainstream education systems around the world fail to adequately incorporate outdoor learning to support the curriculum and make the most of learning opportunities in real-world settings. I believe this is a big missed opportunity, but let me explain why...
Benefits of Outdoor Learning
Outdoor learning has many benefits. It encourages children to explore their surroundings, it helps bring classroom subjects to life, it promotes learner engagement and it improves childrens' health and wellbeing through physical movement. Not only that, but it can also help boost educational achievement while helping to create a new generation of environmental stewards and scientifically literate young people.
Outdoor learning has many benefits. It encourages children to explore their surroundings, it helps bring classroom subjects to life, it promotes learner engagement and it improves children's health and wellbeing through physical movement.
So should we incorporate more experiential learning outside the classroom? Should we expect at least some structured learning and interaction with the outside world as part of every school day?
Learning Outside: Inside the School Grounds
Heck yes, in my view, structured outdoor learning and real-world experience should be a core part of day-to-day schooling. Most schools have school grounds with natural and man-made spaces. How about we develop ways to utilize these spaces to teach subjects like maths, science and English, when appropriate and beneficial to learning?
If integrated properly using the experiential learning model, this helps engage students in higher order thinking like creativity, problem solving and applying classroom knowledge to the real-world. At the same time, children would be much more active and learner engagement would sky rocket, encouraging a love of learning that formal classroom learning simply cannot replicate.
One way to support outdoor education on your school grounds, is to construct a purpose-built outdoor classroom for teachers to actively use during their day-to-day teaching practice. In my experience, teaching professionals jump at the opportunity to use outdoor spaces like this to vary their teaching approach, boost student interest in lessons and increase their overall job satisfaction.
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