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  • Writer's pictureDakota Lanes

Outdoor Learning: Teaching Outside of Classrooms Benefit Young Students

In the past years, the traditional school day and learning environment has come under critique for its restriction on children’s wellbeing and mind- could outdoor learning be a healthy, natural, way for kids to grow while getting a proper education? When presented positively, outdoor learning environments allow for multiple learning styles to be practiced, teaches children to respect the environment, and reduces in-school screen time, along with many other benefits. Negative perceptions of outdoor learning may be, a non-traditional learning environment could result in students not being taught all of the subjects they need, and weather circumstances disrupting learning. Many educators have learned that conventional school days and mundane classroom environments are not suitable for all student’s engagement and proficiency. Outdoor learning has become an indispensable tool in allowing students of all different learning styles to succeed in their education.

When it comes to the basics, outdoor learning is schooling that takes place in a natural environment in lieu of the classroom. Students use the environment and objects around them in nature to learn the curriculum. Instead of flat electronic screens, outdoor schools utilize hands-on learning, which is beneficial to many students. Outdoor school teachers use games, activities, independent learning, and curiosity to keep students engaged. A research study yields “88% of teachers say that children are more engaged in learning when taking lessons outdoors” (C. Prisk). In addition to teaching the regular learning curriculum, including math, reading, and writing, they also teach nature based crafts, music, guided outdoor exploration, tool use, and climbing. Incorporating these activities into the curriculum allows learners to build fine motor skills, teamwork, risk assessment skills, communication, problem solving, and other interpersonal skills. The aforementioned additions to the curriculum keep students stimulated and focused, allowing them to be more attentive to and enjoy the lessons taught in class.

As children spend less and less time outdoors, adults are seeing the consequences of a childhood without nature. Nature is a necessary addition to healthy development, “Many of our children are suffering from 'nature deficit disorder'. This is a term which describes the disconnection many children now have with the natural world and the effects this can have on their wellbeing and future attitudes.” (S. Goddard). It is known that children who spend more time outdoors are less anxious, better at paying attention, and are overall happier than children who spend more time indoors. For many, excessive time indoors may result in a lack of social development and an increase in behavior issues, this could easily result in the child feeling isolated, which often leads to long term negative issues in the future. Along with time being spent outdoors, children’s attentiveness to worldly events, as well as education, is crucial while being taught. With outdoor learning, students become more aware of, and build a connection with, the natural world around them, as well as its flaws. This connection, and education, allows students to be aware of the environmental issues within their community, such as littering or noise pollution. Students who are taught about these earth-harming issues will be more self aware of their environmental impact, and the impact of others around them. Educating the youth on these issues through lessons and personal experiences while they are younger will encourage them to be more mindful about the environment in the future.

The use of screens in classrooms is a subject that has always been hotly debated. Every year, the amount of screen use by our youth increases, both inside and outside the classroom. A large, and growing, portion of schoolwork is now done on tablets or computers inside the classroom. Over the years though, research has shown that there are direct connections between early screen exposure and lower cognitive abilities, underdeveloped communication skills, and even sleep problems. More time spent working on screens may diminish the quality and quantity of interactions between children and peers, children and educators, and children and guardians. A programmed image is by no means interchangeable with a natural, physical, learning experience. Outdoor learning is a reliable tool when combating this issue. The teaching methods of outdoor schooling include very hands-on activities, as well as teamwork and exploration of the subjects being taught. Relaying lessons to students using interactive tools such as storytelling, guided exploration, and problem solving improves children’s social skills, fine motor skills, and overall mood and attitude towards themselves and others, thus resulting in a happier, healthier environment for students and educators.

Many teachers struggle in balancing lesson plans to accommodate all learning styles. This struggle results in some students thriving, while others see their performance in school plummet. As this issue is highly visible within day to day teaching, it is also a product of the learning environment. An understimulating lesson and classroom environment plays a great role in student performance, both academically and behaviorally. However, with outdoor education, a multitude of learning styles are available during all lessons, allowing more room for students to thrive. Outdoors lessons are taught in such an array of techniques, “It offers possibilities to all types of learners, including those with visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learning preferences. Young people who underachieve in more formal situations such as classrooms can often benefit from the flexibility of outdoor learning methods.” (G. Cooper). Each of these types of learners have resources available to them throughout lessons to help all students really grasp what is being taught. For Visual and Kinesthetic learners, the natural environment, tools, and exploration provides a rich array of stimulation and sources to help these students understand. Auditory and Social learners can analyze the sounds around them, along with the verbal teaching of the lesson and collaboration with peers. Solitary learners can use the information given to them as a guide towards learning through individual exploration, and self-guided curiosity. The versatility of provided learning strategies makes outdoor learning a successful educational approach for all students, teachers, and guardians.

While the advantages of outdoor learning are numerous, there are critics who argue that it is not without its flaws. Some believe that outdoor learning lacks structure and consistency that a traditional classroom would have. It’s a worry that this lack of structure may hold students back who thrive best in a routined environment. While outdoor learning may lack traditional classroom structure, it provides a more flexible and engaging learning environment. This promotes independent thinking, problem solving skills, and peer collaboration as students navigate through each lesson. Student-led learning encourages responsibility, decision making, and risk assessment, this allows students to to learn from their teachers, themselves, the environment, and others.

With the decline in children's wellbeing in current traditional schooling, many caregivers are looking for an alternative, and outdoor learning may be the answer for many of these students. Outdoor learning, when properly executed, caters to various learning styles, builds a relationship with and respect with the world around us, and reduces screen time and time indoors, all while educating students on nature, along with regular curriculum subjects, while also building student’s social and personal skills. Though like every way of schooling, there are some concerns on outdoor learning being a non-traditional or non-structured teaching environment, this can be managed with thoughtful planning and understanding of students both individually, and as a whole. On balance, outdoor learning is an approach that strengthens student’s bond with nature, enriches the learning experience, takes into account the wellbeing and performance of all students, builds real-world skills, and educates students on more than just the curriculum followed in a traditional classroom.

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