Learning takes many different forms and taps into various media also. The older the child gets, the more complex our targets for learning may become, however, at its core, learning is based on a child’s interest and willingness to learn by using their current skills and abilities to learn new ones. Learning is dependent on the environment that the child experiences, and also on the adults present who act as models or even as ‘challengers’. The former happens when the adult shows the child skills and their application, whilst the latter happens when the adult presents a challenge and various resources to the child and supports the child to make questions and test things out in order to solve this challenge. An adult’s skill to teach would then be to tap into a child’s interest in a way to target specific learning targets and to adapt/ provide the environment to achieve this.
One aspect to this is outdoor learning, where an adult may use the raw environment as it is and support the child’s natural curiosity and skill development, or else use the environment in a way so as to target something desirable and specific. An example of these would be; walking with your child in a park or the countryside and the child notices different flowers and insects. A conversation may ensue about pollination, colours, scents, different animals, seasons and the weather, etc.… Here the adult is taking a child-led question and teaching about this topic. Another instance could be where the adult specifically asks the child to pick up and note different flowers, fruits, and seeds; leading to learning about this, counting, colours, etc.… These examples are rather rudimentary, it could be an even more developed idea of measuring area, teaching philosophy, physical skills of climbing a tree, gardening, harvesting crops and cooking.
This creativity and freedom of using the outdoor environment for children to learn is one of the benefits. It follows a child’s curiosity which in turn encourages the child to ask questions and to explore, rather than to expect to be given a task and solve it in a specifically taught way. Children take more ownership of their learning when they become scientific enquirers rather than simply taking in what an adult is giving them. This type of learning is called inquiry-based and it emphasizes the child’s active role and the teacher’s importance in supporting this.
What other benefits arise from Outdoor Learning?
Inquiry-based learning supports a child’s personal and emotional development. When a child has the space to ask questions and test things out, they also have a chance to test their self-efficacy, developing pride in themselves and their self-esteem. According to Wistoft (2013), students from an environment of outdoor learning achieve better results not only academically but also personally; exhibiting improved self-esteem; being more motivated and environmentally aware; whilst also having more ownership and improved relationships in the class group.
Academic competencies and social interactions are not the only benefits to outdoor learning. The children’s health and lifestyle are also impacted by it. Children would often feel less stressed when being in nature and they would also have the space to be physically active, which in turn leads to them being more active. Outdoor learning encourages children to be less sedentary, which helps regulate their blood sugar levels and prevents heart diseases or obesity later on in adult life. The study by Gustafsson (2012) highlights findings suggesting the benefits that physical exercise has on mental health, anxiety, and depression.
Another benefit of outdoor learning and the possible use of garden spaces in a school setting would be when children are taught to grow their own food and to lead more sustainable lives. This fosters a healthier approach to eating and also engages their social responsibility. When children take an active role in their community, they learn how to negotiate values with others and they also get to test out their responsibilities and how to live democratically with others.
Thus one can see how useful an outdoor setting is for learning, as it provides many different opportunities for children to learn important skills and aspects which are useful for living in a society with others.
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Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on email@example.com or call us on 79291817.
- Karen Wistoft (2013) The desire to learn as a kind of love: gardening, cooking, and passion in outdoor education, Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 13:2, 125-141, DOI: 10.1080/14729679.2012.738011
- Jana Raadik Cottrell & Stuart P. Cottrell (2020) Outdoor skills education: what are the benefits for health, learning and lifestyle?, World Leisure Journal, 62:3, 219-241, DOI: 10.1080/16078055.2020.1798051
Per E. Gustafsson, Anders Szczepanski, Nina Nelson & Per A. Gustafsson (2012) Effects of an outdoor education intervention on the mental health of schoolchildren, Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 12:1, 63-79, DOI: 10.1080/14729679.2010.532994