Benefits of outdoor learning

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Children in Wellies

We’re sure you can all remember a time when we were younger, running through the woods, jumping in puddles, swinging precariously from trees discovering new and exciting things on our adventures.

We enjoyed the rare school trip once or twice a year where we would visit sea aquariums, museums or zoos. For most of us this was all the outdoor learning we experienced, but when we were at home we were rarely inside. Instead, children would fill the streets outside their homes, riding bikes, playing football and other games.

Over the years it seems with better technology readily available to every household with children as young as five having the latest smartphone or video game, children today are leading more enclosed lives, and in schools with a curriculum full of classroom-based lessons they are rarely experiencing the benefits of outdoor learning.

125 schools across England were recently part of a project commissioned by the Natural Connections Demonstration which is a four year initiative to help school children – particularly in a disadvantaged area – to experience the benefits of learning outdoors.

Sue Waite, Associate Professor in Outdoor Learning at Plymouth University, said:

“The model for this project was built on substantial evidence into both the benefits and challenges schools face when embedding outdoor learning into core teaching. By working directly with teachers we’ve helped to bring about a sustainable culture of outdoor learning across schools that will continue long after the project has ended and will leave behind a lasting legacy.”

The Natural Connections project provides strong evidence that learning outdoors has multiple benefits for school children. 92% of teachers surveyed said that pupils were more engaged with learning when outdoors and 85% saw a positive impact on their behaviour.

The majority of children also thought they learned better and achieved more when learning outside. 92% of pupils involved in the project said they enjoyed their lessons more when outdoors, with 90% feeling happier and healthier as a result.

Some other experts have conducted researches into outdoor learning; some of the various benefits they have discovered include:

  • Students who get to experience an outdoor learning environment tend to be more attentive and, therefore, have a better recollection of the information that was shared.
  • Consistent exposure to nature decreases stress and anxiety, helps elevate mood, and helps with emotion.
  • Children often have too much exposure to digital screens via televisions, computers, and mobile phones. This can result in a “nature deficit disorder,” which may lead to obesity and possible psychological and academic issues. Outdoor learning allows students to put their focus back on nature.
  • Outdoor environments naturally inspire children to be more physically active.
  • Exposure to bright sunlight found in nature is also healthy for vision. Bright sunlight is necessary for the eyes to develop properly, lowering the risk of near-sightedness.
  • In outdoor settings, children are more motivated to work together in groups, which can improve their social skills. They learn to manage conflicts, communicate, and cooperate with their peers in a more effective manner.
  • Outdoor learning provides children with hands-on experiences in nature. Most children learn better by using their senses. Outdoor environments provide the perfect place to do this. Instead of viewing different types of plants or wildlife on a computer or TV screen, they can see, smell, hear and touch them in nature. Students can even start a garden and grow fruits and vegetables, which may have them wanting to sample their harvest. These hands-on experiences cultivate a love of nature and get them interested in our natural resources.

As part of the recent global Outdoor Classroom Day on 17th May, we saw over 1.7million children and young people from around the world and more than 340,000 in the UK and Republic of Ireland participate in outdoor lessons.

Following the Government’s recognition of the importance of time outdoors in the DEFRA 25 year environmental plan launched earlier this year, with £10 million in funding allocated to support outdoor activities, hopefully with this budget more can be done to incorporate outdoor learning into the schools’ curriculum.