My original title for this blog was “Do Children Really Need Outdoor Education?” Of course, the entire article would have been, “Yes, they really, really, absolutely do!” I would have spent the rest of my time answering comments like “Oh, really, says who?” and “Why do they?”
So let me just cut to the chase here and answer those questions right up front. There are many reasons why students need to participate in outdoor learning. First and foremost, it’s fun! Simply taking a lesson and adapting it for the outdoors or designing a lesson involving outdoor education increases students’ enthusiasm for learning. Besides the added fun, learning outdoors is healthy, increasing students’ mental, physical and social health. Outdoor learning decreases stress levels of both students and teachers, and studies have shown that students become more active when they learn outdoors - even during non-school hours, which is great news for parents as well.
A number of studies have shown that activities in outdoor learning lead to increased school performance on standardized tests, better attendance and an enhanced attitude toward school, and improved student achievement. Students who study the outdoors utilize a greater range of intelligences, practice more hands-on learning and state that learning has more relevance. They have more empathy toward others, self-discipline and initiative.
Learning outdoors also creates a sense of place and community. When we isolate learning to a classroom, we take away our students’ opportunity to experience the history and geography of an area. How can we teach our students to be good stewards and citizens if they never feel that connection themselves? They will be more inclined to respect and care for their natural and human communities if they are placed in these settings and understand the decisions that must be made every day to make these communities better.
Finally, outdoor learning connects families with the community. It is a natural starting place for families and community members to participate in students learning. After all, learning should be a partnership among the school, the community, business leaders, families, and all interested parties. Outdoor learning can be a model for this sharing of time, space and knowledge.
(Note: I have created a blog that pinpoints activities and places around Columbus that are ideal for outdoor education. Be on the lookout for that (especially teachers and parents)!
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