Being outside is good for all of us. However, the great outdoors provides an expanse of learning opportunities that are particularly significant for those in pre-school, Reception and Year 1.
In recent years, study after study has highlighted the growing amount of time young children spend in front of screens and the correlating diminishing time spent outside. Society has changed. More of us work in offices Monday to Friday, few of us work outdoors and many of us only see our children in the evenings and at weekends. These days, kicking a ball around a field or collecting leaves in Autumn has a lot to compete with. Computer games, Youtube and on demand children’s TV often consume our children’s entire attention.
This makes it even more important that a greater effort is made to get children outside as a part of their formal education and not just with their parents at weekends.
The benefits of being outdoors are widely referenced:
Children Are Calmer Outdoors
Studies back up the claim that we are calmer outdoors. I quizzed Barbara MacNaught, an Early Years Education professional who spent years working with pre-school children on this. She concurs entirely and tells me,
“I read so much about this and researched it a lot. But to be honest, you don’t really even need to read it. You just need to watch a group of 3 and 4 year olds in the classroom setting and watch them again outside. The improvement in calmness is so clearly visbile. Calm children learn better and having a calm class of children without disruption minimises the distractions.”
Focus Improves Outside
Again, the studies frequently find enhanced focus in humans when outside. But what does Barbara’s experience tell her?
“There are so many distractions inside and that isn’t just in the form of objects in the room. Indoor lighting often flickers, sometimes so subtly you can’t even really tell. But these micro-flickers and suboptimal artificial lighting make it harder for children to concentrate. When you take them outside and let them enjoy natural lighting and surroundings, you remove so many of the artificial distractions they face in a traditional classroom setting. This in turn makes their focus better and enhances their learning and retention.”
Happiness and Learning
Barbara also believes that children’s happiness contribute to their learning capabilities. She tells me,
“Studies have their place and we all need peer reviewed scientific studies. But I’ve been really fortunate to have years of first hand experience in working in a nursery setting with 3 and 4 year olds. And, overwhelmingly, experience tells me that happier children learn more effectively.
There are so many things that educational professionals cannot influence in relation to a child’s happiness. We can’t influence their home lives, we can’t influence traumatic events. So it’s our duty to contribute to their happiness in any small way we can and simply taking lessons outside is one very easy way to do it.”
“All of us can recount happy memories of being outdoors. There’s something about being outside in nature with sticks and stones for learning tools that just makes us feel good.”
Outdoor Lessons in All Weathers
The evidence is clear. Teaching outdoors helps children learn better. So, when it’s possible, why would we not be getting children outside for various lessons on a regular basis?
If it’s cold, wrap them up warm. If it’s hot, keep them cool. And if it’s rainy? Well, get the umbrellas out and enjoy splashing in puddles. But do get outside with your class as frequently as you possibly can.
Faisal Nasim, www.exampapersplus.co.uk