A student sitting in a classroom, learning about refraction isn’t one-tenth as engaged as the same student, observing pebbles inside water appearing closer than they really are. The outdoor classrooms effectively employ a greater range of children’s intelligence. Studies have shown that students who learn outdoors develop: a sense of self, independence, confidence, creativity, decision-making and problem-solving skills, empathy towards others, motor skills, self-discipline, and initiative.
So, to define, any outdoor space used for student exploration, inquiry and learning can be considered as an outdoor classroom. Taking learning outside the classroom and into the natural environment provides the opportunity for an integrated, cross-curricular approach in achieving education aims. A January 2019 study by the University of Westminster, United Kingdom observed that “Curriculum-based outdoor learning leads to improvements in pupils’ engagement with learning, concentration, and behavior, as well as positive impacts on health and wellbeing and teachers’ job satisfaction”.
Even though it provides a wealth of learning opportunities and multiple health benefits, it is still a non-traditional means of achieving curricular aims. The reduction in open green spaces, security concerns and lack of institutional support are the main reasons why outdoor learning isn’t mainstream.
Some of these concerns can be addressed by creating an “intentionally designed outdoor space”. The part of the school's designated playground can be designed to be a natural landscape with curriculum supporting elements. In case of space constraints, a nearby available space where children can be taken on regular field trips will be helpful too. Here, each element can be designed to be not just educational but interactive and engaging to kids.
“Intentionally Designed Outdoor Space” will mean different things for different age groups and curriculum. But that doesn’t have to mean a separate space for every class. Such a space can be designed specifically for respective pedagogical age groups.
Kids in the preschool have tireless curiosity and hunger for adventure. Their encounter with nature and greenery will be a wonderful chance to encourage gross motor and observation skills. Instead of bringing a variety of elements into the classroom, going out where they naturally exist will not just be novel but innovative. For a preschooler going outdoors for learning causes sensory stimulation, by feeling different textures, observing shapes, patterns, colors, tones, and shades of plants. Learning the names of different plants too will aid their cognitive development. Let them explore! under supervision of course.
Kids, a little older than preschoolers will be mature and responsive enough to take up gardening with the help of teachers. It can start with the lessons like differentiating, sorting, counting, weighing and measuring. Watering the plants is a wonderful opportunity for children to play with water and to experiment with measuring. They will not only learn about the names, nutritional values of the plants but also it will increase the child’s preference towards vegetables and fruits. This can indirectly help reduce junk food consumption and childhood obesity. Also, nothing happens overnight in the garden, so what better place to learn patience!
Teaching Mathematics is rarely taken out of four walls of a classroom and there is a rigidity in linking the mathematical concepts to everyday life. Maybe, for this reason, students fear math more than any other subject. Create an outdoor space where they can apply the concepts of averages, volumes, and areas not just as an activity but as a necessity. This will illustrate kids the real-life application of Mathematics while making it fun and interesting.
When there is a lack of engagement and continued monotony even in high school science class, we cannot expect children to get inspired and be innovators. To spark curiosity in them, children should experience science, understand it through their own perspective. Rather than bringing the objects to class to teach the concepts of refraction, reflection, sound, take the classroom to where these phenomena can be observed and experienced naturally. Not everybody will choose STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medicine) but let everybody be aware of the beauty and importance of the science of everyday life.
The significant impact outdoor classrooms can have on a child's learning outcomes is not just remarkable but indisputable. Why tell them multiple times how important these concepts are for their day-today-life when you can show them to learn on their own. To bring out the best in kids let's give them our best.
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