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Outdoor Learning for Children

In modern times, children are spending more time indoors than ever before. In fact a survey has shown that 75% of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates.

The reasons for this decline in outdoor play may be down to fewer green spaces near our homes, increasing fears over safety, and the growing role of technology in the home, but it’s a worrying trend considering the massive benefits the outside world has to offer our children.

British classroom hours for even young children are getting longer, with more parents working outside the home taking advantage of breakfast and after-school clubs to provide extended childcare.

However in some countries, young children spend hardly any time indoors at all. The outdoor classrooms and forest kindergartens of countries like Germany, Denmark, and Finland prove that children flourish when the majority of their time is spent outside and there are many benefits to outdoor learning.

More Opportunities for Movement and Exercise

Young children in particular are very active and soon become fidgety and distracted when forced to spend long periods inside without the chance to burn off some energy.

Plenty of physical activity is important for health and especially as nearly a third of UK children aged 2 to 15 are classed as overweight or obese. Simply being outside encourages activities such as running, jumping, and climbing, and staying naturally fit and healthy.

Encourages Independence and Confidence

When children are left to explore their outdoor surroundings, they learn to negotiate unfamiliar environments. Away from direct adult supervision, children learn how to play by themselves, achieve difficult tasks without help, and to socialise with their peers and resolve any issues without adult involvement.

The odd cut or bruise are inevitable but children quickly become aware of their own limitations and learn not to climb a tree they can’t get down from on their own, for example.

Outdoor play and activities has been shown to increase confidence in more shy children and encourages them to learn social skills and interact with others in a way that that they wouldn’t do in a classroom setting.

Reduced Behavioural Problems

Research has shown that time spent outdoors in nature offers many benefits to mental health, helping to reduce stress. Natural light also provides important vitamin D, which the body can only synthesise in the presence of sunlight, and this has also been linked with moods and mental health.

We’re seeing an increase in children displaying symptoms of what has been coined ‘nature deficit disorder’. Characterised by a disengagement from nature, attention disorders, and depression, there are worries this ‘disorder’ will have a long-term impact on society, as well as affecting the mental health and academic performance of individual children affected by it.

Learning in an outdoor setting also encourages positive social behaviours and children learn how to work together to achieve goals such as building a den or climbing a boulder, helping to develop skills in teamwork and collaboration that will be helpful in their adult lives.

Improves Engagement and Creativity

Young children have a natural love of nature and can often play happily with a stick for hours. The same child that quickly becomes bored playing with toys or given learning activities inside, might play and learn outside for a whole day without any complaint.

Creativity is also stimulated by nature and early years educators can take advantage of this by planning activities involving art, crafts, and storytelling around time spent outdoors.

Learn to Respect and Appreciate Nature from an Early Age

Many believe that we’re embarking on a global environmental crisis, with the full impact of rising pollution levels and global warming yet to be seen. It is our children who will inherit the world they’re born into, and so it’s important they learn to interact with nature in a way that is beneficial, rather than harmful.

Learning about plant biology or the water cycle can be taught from the classroom but won’t really be understood or appreciated until children have seen and experienced it for real in the great outdoors.

Being outside in the same location regularly also helps children to learn to respect living things and the impact of their actions – for example how long it takes a plant to grow again after being uprooted.

Outdoor Learning is Vital for the Future of the Next Generation

All it takes to benefit from outdoor learning is time and space spent outdoors in nature. Unlike other educational initiatives it doesn’t require any expensive equipment or detailed learning plans. Even a small amount of time spent outside can provide massive benefits for children of all ages.