Chapter 1 – What are the benefits of outdoor learning?
Outdoor learning can offer a range of direct and indirect benefits to a young person’s personal development. Children can gain direct educational, health and psychological benefits, as well as indirect social and financial benefits. Whilst much of the learning in outdoor environments is the same as that which takes place indoors (acquiring knowledge, improving skills and changing attitudes etc.), it is the quality and nature of the experience that is often enhanced whilst outdoors.
Larisa Lupini from the Agrinido L'Orto dei pulcini organic farm in Italy, talks about some of the benefits of outdoor learning to young people.
Improved physical and mental health
Learning outside the classroom supports the development of healthy and active lifestyles by offering children opportunities for physical activity, freedom and movement, and promoting a sense of well-being. Outdoor learning often results in increased levels of physical activity, with a visit very often involving a walk around the site or participation in a practical activity. Links between human contact with the natural world and improved mental health have also been well-established. Many studies have shown that exposure to the natural environment lowers the effects of those mental health issues that may make it difficult for children to pay attention in the classroom. It has also been noted that symptoms of disorders such as ADHD are reduced when children have access to outdoor environments. Outdoor experiences may aid recovery from stress and anxiety, while also protecting from future conditions.
Children need an outdoor environment that can provide them with space, both upwards and outwards, and places to explore, experiment and discover. Outdoor play also supports children’s problem-solving skills and nurtures their creativity, as well as providing rich opportunities for their developing imagination, inventiveness and resourcefulness. For many children, playing outdoors at their early years setting may be the only opportunity they have to play safely and freely while they learn to assess risk and develop the skills to manage new situations.
Early years learning through growing and food is also a great way of assisting refugee children with integrating in their new communities. The support, facilities and care provided in an early years setting can help refugee children to feel safe and secure, whilst they develop their confidence and language and communication skills. Social contact with other children and adults who speak the language of the host country will promote their early language learning, whilst outdoor play can help children to make sense of new environments in a safe and secure social setting. Specific activities such as gardening are a useful way to help children understand the food habits of the country that they have moved to. These activities may also encourage parental involvement and provide opportunities for them to share their knowledge of food and growing with other parents.