Many of our happiest memories from our childhood are connected to time spent outdoors exploring and having fun. Today, children are spending more time inside, in front of screens, whether it’s watching TV, Youtube videos, playing games or completing online tasks. While being digitally literate is crucial for the next generation, too much screen time and insufficient time playing and exploring the great outdoors can be detrimental to children’s health and development.
Open, green spaces are a natural part of our life as humans. It has only been in the last few hundred years that people have increasingly lived away from green spaces. Therefore it is possible that regular exposure to green environments like parks, gardens and forests may have therapeutic and calming benefits on us. Frances Ming Kuo, a researcher interested in the positive link between nature and human health, describes our natural response to being in nature as getting our ‘Vitamin G’ (G for ‘green’). Ming Kuo argues that like a vitamin, frequent contact with nature and green environments is a necessary ingredient for a healthy life, especially for growing children.
Daily playtime and lesson time outside enhances children’s social, psychological and physical development, as well as giving them time to be imaginative and creative and have fun! Here are the main ways that lessons outdoors can benefit children’s development.
Children have an innate curiosity and wonder about the world around them, which makes them the imaginative and enthusiastic individuals that they are. This curiosity is also paired with their natural ‘biophilia’. Biophilia refers to our natural tendency to seek connections with nature and other animals. This natural love of life is engaged when playing and exploring outside, which can encourage an early love of wildlife, biology and conservation. Nature has always been a source of wonder for people, from scientists to artists alike. So it is no wonder that children who spend regular amounts of time exploring the great outdoors are more likely to engage in more creative forms of play.
It also aids problem-solving skills, ability to focus, and can boost understanding and use of language. In fact, research has revealed that children use five times as many words when they play outdoors compared to when they are indoors. This could be through exposure to objects and new words that they are less likely to come into contact with inside of a classroom. The stimulating and reinforcing effects that fresh air and new environments have on learning can only be a positive influence on top of this.
Children thrive while exploring the great outdoors. Space to freely run, jump, hop as well as use toys and find treasures like leaves and acorns, develop children’s overall physical prowess and confidence often without them realising. All of these activities help to increases fitness, spatial awareness and coordination.
Outdoor adventures also enhance social skills too. Research has found that when children play outside, they are more likely to play more cooperatively. By socialising with others through game-creating and playing, children learn vital communication skills, as well as form friendships and widen their imaginations.
Because outdoor play is often unstructured, independent play (as opposed to adult-led activities) it provides children with the chance to take risks and build upon their self-esteem by themselves. This is vital for establishing a strong personality and a sense of independence and resilience.
Summary: learning outside the classroom
Learning occurs more quickly when pupils are engaged in imaginative play and exploration. By taking classroom activities outside, children have the opportunity to learn in a multisensory environment completely different to their normal classroom. Getting outdoors to learn is a brilliant sensory experience for children. There is so much for them to see, explore and learn.
Exploring outside can also be used as real-life inspiration for creative writing exercises, for example by encouraging children to describe in words what they can see, hear and smell. This kind of sensory focus will enhance pupils’ understanding and ability to pick up on small details.
Staying seated in the same position for too long can also be damaging for our concentration and cognitive development. Moving around at regular intervals, on the other hand, helps to keep our brains fresh and alert, aiding in our ability to take in new information. By switching the setting, attention is maintained and children remain engaged on the task for longer.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, being outdoors can cultivate our children’s awareness and appreciation for life around them. By understanding the importance of the natural environment, ecosystems and wildlife, children can be inspired to take interest in subjects such as biology, conservation and even zoology. Being in different outdoor settings can be used to illustrate different types of landscapes, rocks, river formations, and ecosystems. And by looking at living plants such as trees and flowers, the parts of plants can be explained, or how bees function in spreading plant pollen.
Adventure activities such as exploring forests to find untold treasures or explore mysterious lands are exciting learning activities for children, especially from a young age. And it’s important to hold onto the enthusiasm and imaginative flair sometimes only found in children and lost in adulthood.
At our Woodland Adventure on 12th February, children aged 1½ to 3 years of age are invited to bring their parent along for an exciting morning exploring our Forest School area, where there’ll be lots of fun (and free) activities to take part in.