The Key Benefits of Outdoor Learning / Education for Children and Teens
Our Foundation celebrates the benefits of outdoor learning for kids. Recent posts on educational staycation ideas, adventurous learning vacations for families and other outdoor inspirations for the spring, summer and even activities for the cold seasons put the proof in the pudding. But don’t take our word alone for it. Numerous studies from all over the world sing the praises of outdoor learning. Let’s take a look at why kids are excited about the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors while learning about things that are relevant to the world around them.
What Makes Outdoor Learning so Great for Kids
Helps Apply What is Learned in the Classroom
When children and teens can apply what they learned in a classroom to real world scenarios they can better retain information. An American Institutes for Research (AIR) study on the effects of outdoor education programs for children delivered exciting results. Among academic gains, were social studies, language arts, math and science. Naturally (given the connection to the environment) science scores saw the biggest lift. Students who attended outdoor school significantly raised their science scores by over 26 percent!
What is even more exciting, is that not only do grades improve, but attitudes about subjects such as social studies, math and science improve, too. The better a child/teen feels about the subject, the hungrier they are to learn more about it.
Good for the Brain / Cognitive Functioning
Outdoor learning is better for the brain. Studies compiled by the Children and Nature Network (C&NN) show that daily exposure to natural settings increases children’s ability to focus and therefore enhances cognitive abilities (Nancy Wells 2000). Another study pulled from the C&NN cited Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances Kuo’s 2008 findings from the Journal of Attention Disorders study on children aged 7 to 12 diagnosed with ADHD found that children with ADHD were able to concentrate better and rated their experiences more positively when compared to traditional classroom settings. Thus, for both normal cognitive functioning and impaired cognitive functioning (as found with ADHD) outdoor learning experiences make sense.
Better Physical Health
There are indirect benefits towards health when kids add community garden and farm visits to their outdoor learning agenda. When they learn more about where their food comes from they are more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables. But what is really exciting, is that outdoor learning has direct health benefits, too!
For starters, an outdoor experience increases physical activity. A well-known study from Oxford Journals showed that learning activities within school ground green spaces can help combat childhood obesity. Another important study from the American Academy of Ophthalmology stated that more time spent outdoors may reduce the risk for nearsightedness (myopia) in children and adolescents. It seems that an outdoor learning experience a day keeps the doctors away.
Enhanced Social Development
The same AIR study that showed an improvement in academic performance also stated that participation in outdoor school was associated with higher ratings of conflict resolution skills and cooperation. A recent 2015 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) backed the AIR finding, noting that 75-93% of children reported that an outdoor setting calms them down when they are angry. When thoughts are calm and collected, kids better engage, interact and learn from one another. Simply put, students involved in outdoor learning get along better, even during times of conflict. Other social benefits include improvements in self-esteem and peer-to-peer relationship building.
While classroom settings will always be a major part of childhood education, the evidence is clear. Planning for an outdoor learning experience is essential to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional health of children and teenagers alike. Stay tuned as the Plant a Seed and See What Grows Foundation continues in its series on the benefits of outdoor learning for kids.