In today’s fast changing world children get to spend very little time outdoors, which changes their childhood dramatically. The long-term consequences of the lack of exposure to the natural environment can be negative. Children who don’t experience outdoor learning may be less cooperative, less flexible in their attitudes, and have lower self-awareness than those who do. Emotionally, they are likely to be more aggressive and less happy. Some could even develop behavioural problems, such as attention deficit disorder, which could continue well into adulthood. Also, they are less likely to be excited by nature, biology and science, in general, if they do not go out and experience it.
Over the past few decades, it has been observed that, due to the influence of modern family life, children spend time playing games on computers and watching television instead of being physically active outdoors. Parents perceive the outside environment as unsafe for their children, which leaves the young ones with even fewer opportunities to explore their natural environment and surroundings. Parents have little time off work to take their children outside. At school, the prime focus on academic achievement has pressured the teachers to keep the children in the classroom. After all, it is the teachers who are held accountable for the results.
However, it is important to remember that besides developing fine and gross motor skills, and cardiovascular endurance, outdoor learning can have a salutary effect on the development of mental and social skills of children.
Absence of outdoor learning and its effects
Lack of outdoor learning can hamper a child’s social skills and stifle their emotional and physical well-being and development.
As children are eating more high-calorie processed foods, childhood obesity has reached an all-time high. Psychological and social problems, sleep apnoea, diabetes, and heart disease are among the serious health threats that affect overweight children.
Benefits of outdoor learning for your child
The benefits that outdoor learning offers are manifold:
- A healthier lifestyle: Exercise and fresh air are integral to outdoor learning. Even children who are not interested in physical activities will enjoy being a part of learning games in which there is no pressure to win. Studies have shown that children who go outdoors to learn have a better knowledge of nutrition, and healthier eating habits than those who don’t.
- Better problem-solving skills and creativity: According to experts, children who go outside to study engage more cooperatively in learning activities (Bell and Dyment, 2006). Capacity for intellectual development, problem-solving and creativity is seen to be enhanced in the presence of nature (Kellert, 2005).
- Reduced stress and better social relations: Natural surroundings with a lot of greenery help to reduce stress among children. Regular opportunities for unstructured and free interaction out of doors make them happier and healthier, and they are able to get along with others better.
- More relevant and engaged learning: When put into a more realistic context, the concepts being taught become more relevant and real for the children. When children get to see things for themselves, many concepts that they find difficult to understand in the classroom become easier to grasp. For example, young children could learn a lot about textures and volume through simple outdoor activities such as playing with water and sand. Similarly, they can learn more about the natural habitats of small animals and insects through outdoor learning.
- Improved cognitive abilities: Cognitive skills and the ability to focus increases with regular exposure and proximity to nature. According to MacKenzie & White (1981), higher cognitive scores result from field trip experience, and according to Disinger (1987), out-of-classroom instruction is useful in promoting and achieving cognitive gain when effectively planned and managed. Falk & Balling (1982) state that pre-field trip orientation conducted by the classroom teacher results in the greatest cognitive scores.
Therefore, if safety, supervision and other such needs of young children are taken care of, outdoor learning can greatly enhance their skills and abilities, and supplement classroom learning very well.