Getting children outdoors is not only a great way to connect with nature and the environment, but it is an amazing teacher too.
Outdoor learning is nothing new. Children have been learning outdoors, using their developing bodies and minds to make sense of the world around them, for thousands of years. Then came the technology revolution and we (adults and kids) replaced outdoor time with gadgets.
There is no dearth of research on how health and development of young minds and bodies are being impacted by this shift. Introduction of outdoor learning and play as a part of the curriculum in childcares and schools helps balance this shift. It is designed to aid your child’s physical, emotional and intellectual wellbeing.
Let’s look at a few reasons why outdoor play is important for young minds and bodies.
- Improved physical activity can be linked to numerous health benefits – fitness, metabolic function and bone health. Some studies indicate lack of access to outdoors as a reason for depression and obesity in children.
- Healthy behavioural habits linked to outdoor play with research also indicating that these habits are likely to continue into adulthood.
- Supports holistic learning. As they grow, children must achieve – exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development and absorption of basic knowledge. Children need opportunities to explore, experiment, manipulate, reconfigure, expand, influence, change, marvel, discover, practice, dam up, push their limits, yell, sing, and create. The dynamic natural environment is the most efficient place to express and learn all these skills.
The outdoor environment offers unique stimulus that capture children’s attention and interest. Natural elements are open-ended materials, that can respond to children’s imagination and needs. The exploration of natural elements is also important to capture children’s attention to the richness and diversity of nature. Through outdoor play and the exploration of natural elements, it is possible to promote education in its broadest sense. To learn about their own physical and emotional capabilities, children must push their limits (eg. How high can I swing?). To learn about the physical world, the child must experiment with the physical world (eg. Can I slide on the sand?)
- Builds independence and confidence, especially when adults such as educators exercise controlled autonomy and encourage children to explore independently.
- Inspires creative thinking as children use their imagination and use objects around them for stimulus.
- Improves social skills. Being less intimidating, the great outdoors is a fantastic environment to get children out of their shells and interact more freely with those around them
What outdoor based learning at childcares looks like?
While outdoor play within childcares is important, getting them out and about in natural environments for their outdoor learning is even better.
Programmes such as Nature’s Point Outdoor Adventures Programme extends learning into the reserve that backs its building. The programme is designed to get inculcate self-management skills and think through things rather than being told, “don’t”.
Tree climbing and taking risks is encouraged to allow children to understand what they are capable of. Bush skills and an understanding of our local environment is fostered. The programme is carried out despite light rain (but with appropriate clothing) to help children love the outdoors with all its moods. The programme also has a strong focus on kaitiakitanga, encouraging the children to be guardians of the environment.
In addition to learning in natural environments, sports-based outdoor learning (a more controlled environment) is a part of Nature’s Point’s robust outdoor programme.
The most important tool for learning is neither the latest technology nor sitting in front of a board. It is our intrinsic motivation, curiosity and sense of wonder. Nature, experiencing with all senses and trusting relationships with teachers are essential. This forms the crux of any successful outdoor learning programme (including Nature’s Point Outdoor Adventures Programme) and must be considered when choosing the right childcare.