Four reasons why Outdoor Learning is so important.
Written by: Louise Stubbs, Early Years Educator, Faraway Tree Kindergarten.
Why is outdoor learning so important? That’s the question we keep asking ourselves. Occasionally it will cross our minds that it would be easier to keep the children indoors all day; it would be easier to avoid repeatedly putting on and removing outdoor clothing, carrying out risk assessments on countless locations, and carrying backpacks or pulling wagons everywhere we go. So why do we do it?
It’s one of the most obvious benefits of being outdoors; fresh, clean air full of oxygen. When there are numbers of people in a room breathing in the oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide, this can affect the children’s ability to learn. Being in a room with higher carbon dioxide levels has been shown to slow reaction times, impair memory and increase drowsiness. The benefits of fresh air don’t apply solely to the children. The same effects apply to adults, therefore by spending time regularly outdoors we are keeping ourselves (practitioners) more alert and engaged with the children.
Learning in an outdoor environment – especially one with a lot of wide-open space – allows children to better practice using their fine- and gross-motor skills. An outdoor environment allows for whole-body movement, which increases special understanding, muscular control and body awareness. In addition to improving their physical ability, it also improves their physical health; more time spent outdoors reduces the risk of obesity, increases vitamin D intake, and even reduces the amount of common illnesses caught.
What can seem like a small risk from an adults perspective, can be an enormous challenge from the perspective of a child. Imagine a fallen tree in the forest; most adults can step over a small tree trunk in one stride, however, a child would need to rest their entire body on the trunk, lift one leg over, shuffle it until it reaches the ground on the other side, then lift the other leg and swing the rest of their body over to the other side of the tree trunk. A task that seems quite simple to us, is a huge challenge for someone only a fraction of the height – and these challenges can be incredibly beneficial. Risk-taking can improve children’s confidence, social skills, problem-solving, self-awareness, and their ability to assess their own safety and risks in future.
Learning About Nature
We know that children learn better when the content they are learning is meaningful. The best way to make a topic meaningful is to make it part of their lives. If we sit indoors and show the children a picture of some plants and explain to them their life-cycle, is this meaningful? Not really. But if we explore outdoors, ask the children to find a plant, ask them how they think the plant began to grow there, and then explain the plant’s life-cycle, is this meaningful? Absolutely. The children develop a connection with the natural environment that promotes a sense of belonging and familiarity. In turn, this encourages attitudes that are caring and respectful, not only towards nature but towards all living things. The natural environment inspires a sense of curiosity and imagination, which can help to create a lifelong love of learning.
Though many reasons why we choose outdoor learning have been discussed, the list really, is endless, as are the benefits.
Written by: Louise Stubbs, Early Years Educator at Faraway Tree Kindergarten.
Bento, G. and Dias, G. (2017). The importance of outdoor play for young childrenʼs healthy development. Porto Biomedical Journal, 2(5), pp.157-160.
Bilton, H. (2010). Outdoor learning in the early years. 3rd ed. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, p.17, 20.
Waller, T., Arlemalm-Hagser, E. and Sandseter, E. (2017). The Sage handbook of outdoor play and learning. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, p.74.
White, J. (2011). Outdoor provision in the early years. Los Angeles: SAGE, p.14.