Why should children learn outdoors? What are the benefits? This article will examine the results of recent research which suggest that the classroom is not the perfect environment for learning, as was once thought.
In 2006, the UK’s Department for Children and Schools, Culture and the Environment openly supported the case for learning outdoors. It was thought then that there was a real chance of broadening children’s awareness, creativity and at the same time helping to raise standards of academic achievement.
Just two years ago, there was even a commitment by the UK government which would enable schools to encourage outdoor learning and to give them more funds and facilities to do so.
And the bad news?
That was a promising start and there was great hope that outdoor education centres would be able to make a positive impact on the education scene in the UK. Then the cuts started and they were massive. So much so that over 90% of the centres have had their local education authority grants slashed.
Research on outdoor education
Now, let us look at what research has been done and what the benefits are once the children are able to explore nature. There are many projects which have all shown the same results. Children who are given fieldwork all show a marked improvement in attention and concentration.
A project organised by King’s College in London showed that there was better results for kids when they re-entered the classroom after nature studies. They were getting better grades in:-
- social studies
The schools inspection service in the UK, Ofsted has long advocated helping children make contact with nature. The results have been positive in that children are:-
- better behaved
- more self controlled
- more self aware
- more motivated
The American experience
In the USA, the publication of Richard Louv’s book called Last Child in The Woods helped to kick-start children’s nature study. Basically the book alerted society to the fact that children were suffering from a nature deficit. The movement has taken off in a big way and there are now many kindergartens and elementary schools which have started their own programmes. There are now certification courses for teachers wishing to specialize in this exciting new area.
The Children and Nature network is typical of the many groups throughout the US which have discovered the enormous benefits which a nature based education can achieve. As Richard Louv has pointed out very clearly in his book, the worrying trends in children deprived of contact with nature can be reversed.
Experts have now documented many of the benefits and theses include less risk of:-
- depression and anxiety
- absence from school due to illness.
While Scandinavia led the way in nature based education in the 1970’s, the UK and the USA are fast catching up. The only worry is that budget cuts may kill a thriving sapling.