The 7 Benefits of Taking Your Class Outdoors September 26, 2019
We spend the vast majority of our childhood indoors. Regardless of how often you head out on weekend camping trips or play after-school sports, children spend upwards of fifty to sixty hours a week in a classroom. While we, as educators, hope to give our students the tools that they need to take on real-life challenges, the traditional education system does most, if not all, of its teaching inside.
Anyone who has spent time outside, however, knows that you can learn so much just by existing in and observing the natural world. Here, outside the controlled environment of a traditional classroom, we face innumerable hurdles and obstacles, all while having to be more conscientious of our own needs in an often inhospitable environment.
Outdoor learning can have outcomes far beyond arithmetic and listening comprehension, though it can help with these skills, too. But what can taking your classroom outdoors actually do for you and your students? Let's find out:
1. Outdoor learning promotes physical well-being
By its very nature, outdoor education is a physical pursuit. Whether you're walking, running, hiking, skiing, paddling, or just sitting in a flower-filled alpine meadow, we are much more active when we're outside than when we're in a climate-controlled classroom.
A well-structured outdoor classroom with properly facilitated activities can get students of all ages to be more active throughout the day. All of this daily physical activity sets people, especially our youngest students, up well for a lifetime of healthier choices.
Plus, outdoor learning can instil a desire to get out and explore the natural world through a variety of outdoor recreation pursuits. By getting outside, we set students up for a healthy lifestyle and help them combat the variety of ailments that plague the modern sedentary way of life.
2. Learning outside fosters a sense of environmental awareness
People have a hard time caring about things that they have no direct experience of, which, all too often, is the environment. For those of us who live in urban landscapes, the "natural world" is something that you see only on Instagram and the TV. But, if we can take our classrooms outside, even just to a city park or courtyard garden, we can start to instil a sense of environmental awareness in our students.
The more time we spend outside, the more we can help our students learn about the environment. Through these direct interactions with wild places, students can better understand how the world around them actually works. Plus, they can start to appreciate nature as valuable in and of itself as they become stewards for the environment.
3. Spending time outside encourages self-sufficiency
In a world where information is literally at our fingertips, and technology has automated much of our daily lives, many young students struggle to be self-sufficient. When we're constantly surrounded by people and technology that can do challenging things for us, we lose our own sense of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
Outside, however, we need to be able to care of ourselves. Through the never-ending physical and mental challenges of the outdoors, our students need to push themselves and become more self-reliant to thrive. While it’s easy to lurk in the background in a classroom, everyone needs to take care of themselves and be self-sufficient in the outdoors.
4. Outdoor classrooms teach communication skills
When you sit at a desk all day, you can get away with subpar communication skills. Get outside, however, and you’ll quickly learn that you’ll need to communicate with others to overcome certain obstacles in your path.
While we do need to communicate in a traditional classroom, the “challenges” we face in this setting rarely have real-life consequences. In an outdoor classroom, though, a lack of quality communication can result in burnt dinner or a poorly pitched tent that gets us all soaked in the rain. When we learn to communicate in a setting with real, impactful consequences like the ones we have in an outdoor classroom, we take so much more away from that experience and develop more robust, well-rounded skills.
5. Spending time outdoors is the only way to get outdoor skills
Although it would be unreasonable to expect that all of our students will become avid outdoor enthusiasts, outdoor skills are valuable and worth knowing, regardless of where you live. Whether it's learning to navigate off-trail or learning to start a fire, outdoor skills are useful for life and can get you out of a tricky situation.
Since practising a skill is the best way to learn it, taking our students outside is a great way to teach them these skills. Plus, outdoor skills are yet another tool for engaging with the natural world, so it's worth teaching them to all of our students.
6. Outdoor learning fosters a sense of wonder
When we spend all day inside, we exist in a sterile, isolated environment. As soon as we get outside, however, we open up a whole world that’s just waiting to be explored. By connecting lessons taught in a biology lab to the flora and fauna we observe outside or by reading some of Henry David Thoreau’s finest work with our students around the campfire, we can encourage our students to get out and learn more about the world around them.
Teachable moments are nearly infinite when we’re outside and are a great way to get students to start asking questions about their environment. Our students’ curiosity, engagement, and sense of wonder are just waiting to express themselves - we simply need to give them the tools and environment in which to do so.
7. Outdoor classrooms can help students improve their community
When we get out of the controlled classroom environment and into the real world, our students get to interact with a wide range of different people and environments. For many of our students, this time outside may be their first exposure to a world outside home, school, sports, and activities.
Because of this, outdoor classrooms are an ideal opportunity for getting our students to engage with their community. Often, this happens through community clean-up events, trail improvement days, or by volunteering at a community gathering. Any outdoor classroom can easily be service-oriented, opening up a range of valuable experiences that can inspire students to be active citizens in their community.