The Pros of Outdoor Learning

‘Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.’ Albert Einstein

 

Introduction

What are the cons of outdoor learning?

‘Wait a minute…’ I hear you cry, ‘You said this was an article about the pros of outdoor learning!’

Well, it is - and there are many of those, which we’ll definitely get to in a minute - but, where there are pros, there are undoubtedly cons too, so it seemed a good idea just to get a couple of those out of the way first.

My idea of the cons (not exhaustive and I’m sure everyone has their personal perspective on this) is basically:

  • rain
  • ensuing mud
  • cold rain
  • more rain
  • more mud
  • did I mention rain?

Well yes, the weather - and more specifically UK weather - can be a teensy bit challenging from time to time, but here’s the good news: warm, waterproof, easily washed clothing will generally solve most weather-related issues.

 

Some of the Pros

So, we’ve mentioned the rain (I think?) but actually, although it often seems to rain in the UK, there are varying degrees. Unless we’re talking about cats and dogs type rain (a bit dangerous with paws and tails flailing everywhere - not to mention the raucous meowing and woofing noises) most of our other weather is pretty manageable to be out in. Fresh air when we’re outside, particularly in green areas, is unquestionably a bonus and, being out of a heated atmosphere in the winter, just for a little while, is definitely rejuvenating.

Plus, think of all those puddles you can jump in! Once your children start bouncing and splashing, I defy you not to get sucked in (though not literally, one hopes!). And if you’re not in a puddle jumping frame of mind, you can be the one on the periphery setting the ‘who can jump into a puddle from the furthest away’ contest, or ‘who can hop in a puddle for the longest’ challenge.

Then there are rainbows - not quite the same seen through a window, and you definitely can’t go on an adventure to look for the pot of gold at the end of one if you’re indoors. I would highly recommend not too cold a day, and a picnic - rainbow ends can be notoriously tricky to find.

We all know that outdoor activities can be fun, providing us with fresh air and exercise, but there have also been many studies conducted, which have revealed all sorts of other benefits. For example, some theories suggest that outdoor learning can help to reduce stress, enhance children’s ability to enquire, improve social skills and also help to develop their physical aptitude. Not only that, outside learning offers opportunities to engage all our senses in ways that learning within four walls can never quite emulate.

 

Some Possible Outdoor Activities

You only have to look on the internet to find a tremendous range of activities that provide outdoor learning opportunities, but here are some that are easy to set up.

My absolute favourite is a nature treasure hunt, simply because this can be done at pretty much any time of year and can be varied according to weather and available resources. At its most basic, a nature treasure hunt means giving children a list of various natural objects they need to find. These ‘treasures’ could include things like finding something sticky (well done the group that comes back with a stick!) something green, something round, something rough, or something smooth etc.

The benefit of this activity is that it’s so incredibly adaptable. If the weather’s not great, children can just dip outside, or it can be done entirely outdoors on a fine day. It can be planned as a competition if you want to keep up the pace, or done over several days as part of a topic. For older children, you can up the stakes by giving them each treasure to find only after they have worked out a maths question, or found a comprehension answer in a text, or worked out a brainteaser. As I say, the permutations are limitless. All the ‘treasures’ the children find can also be used to make a great collage! It’s definitely a fabulous opportunity for cross-curricular learning.

Another great activity, which only requires some paper and wax crayons, is seeing how many different types of rubbings you can make. Tree bark is an obvious candidate for this, but there are also leaves, paths, brick walls, shed doors, garden ornaments and so on; challenge your children to be creative and try things out. Again, this could also be linked to materials and their properties in science, or perhaps be part of an art project.

Reflex PE provides another excellent range of activities that don’t require too much in the way of resources; tasks can also be easily adapted for either groups or individuals, too. There are a number of things you can try, but again, here are a couple of ideas.

Catch if you can

In pairs, one person holds a suitably smooth stick (about the length of a ruler) at shoulder height and arm’s length. Another person stands at the ready to try to catch the stick when it’s dropped. Attempt the activity three or four times, then swap roles. Who has the best reflexes? Did they improve on the third or fourth go?

Dressing Test

Put out a pile of boots, socks, hat, gloves, scarf - or any combination of adult size clothes. (If there are quite a few children playing this game you may need more than one pile.) Time each child to see how quickly they can put on the clothes?  Who is the quickest? Are they faster on a second or third try?

Square Test

Make a large square with four suitable sticks, how many times can you jump in and out of the square in 20 seconds? How does your body feel before you start? What do you notice during and after the task?

Activities like these can be linked to practically any other subject. For example, in science children could be learning about what happens to their bodies during exercise; there are lots of opportunities in maths here for using percentages, time, data, averages, or word problems; English could involve writing instructions, an account, or a fun newspaper report. Ask your children - challenge them to come up with ways to create a cross-curricular topic from outdoor activities such as these.

Final Thought

After the tough months we have all recently endured, perhaps it has become more important than ever to think about how we can encourage our children (and ourselves) to spend more time outside. That there are enormous benefits to outdoor learning is no real surprise, but the current situation has meant that maybe we are only now really beginning to appreciate those benefits.

Basically, an awful lot of what we learn inside can be fairly easily adapted to be learned outside too.

In the words of the immortal William Wordsworth “Let Nature be your teacher.”

Be safe and well, as always.

Written by Ashley Costin

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