Why the outdoors is the best classroom

Thank you for this insight into the benefits of growing up with some old school fresh air! Good timing as the weather warms up :)

In an article for Bury Free Press, head teacher Andrew Hammond shared his opinion that the environment outside a child’s head has a significant impact on what goes on inside it. Hammond was a Cub Scout leader for many years, which is one of the reasons why he has always been keen to establish outdoor adventures in school programmes. “I know, first hand, of the benefits such activities can bring to children’s well-being and motivation,” he said. In his experience, he has seen many children develop teamwork, self-esteem, motivation, and imagination just by spending a few hours outdoors. He notes that children need the freedom to look at the world in a different way—after all, reimagining the world is what childhood is all about. “One never knows what you will find in the great outdoors if you look hard enough,” mentions Hammond. This is why playing outside is considered a vital part of a child's upbringing and must be encouraged by parents. Unfortunately, it is not a trend that is catching on.

The Herald Scotland reveals that the time children spend outdoors playing has been drastically reduced because of computer games and child safety. In fact, recent studies revealed that three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. Scotland chief executive Celia Tennant says that children need to play outside. “They want to and they don’t care if it’s wet or windy or snowing. It is us, the adults, who do,” she said. “Children are stronger than we think and playing outside makes them tougher. They need exposure to the elements and they need to test themselves.”

Children are missing out on a lot of benefits when they do not spend enough time outdoors. For one, playing and learning outside helps them improve their wellbeing and resilience. Spending time outside also allows children to use nature to develop curiosity. Active play helps children understand how to resolve conflicts without any help from adults, not to mention develop grit and resilience that will help them to cope with future challenges.

It is not just schools that can use the outdoors as a classroom. Parents should also encourage outdoor activities as much as possible. The Huffington Post recommends making family walks a fun activity by including treasure hunts and playing games. Not only will this reduce the chance of them getting bored, it will also allow you to teach them skills like problem solving and teamwork. These types of activities should be for the whole family so it is worth investing time and money on making sure they get to spend enough time outdoors.

It’s important to start them young, too. Getting plenty of sunshine and fresh air is good for you and your children no matter how recently they were born. Being outdoors amidst numerous sights, sounds, and smells at an early age provides your baby with valuable learning experiences and early stimulation, which gives them a good base when they finally start school.

A study by students at the University of Cyprus entitled ‘The Importance of Taking Infants and Toddlers Outdoors’ examines how “outdoor experiential learning also promotes early language development”. A sensory experience can help a toddler develop their language skills. Babies also get psychological benefits from being outdoors, as watching others can be the first step in their social development. Even the type of pushchair their parents use is important. A study on the psychological benefits of pushchairs by the University of Dundee found that “babies were less likely to sleep, laugh or interact with their parents if they were facing away from them.” However, babies that were facing forward were found to have an elevated heart beat because they were more excited by everything they could see going on around them. iCandy explain how modern pushchairs are designed for all types of surfaces including grass, which gives parents more options to chose from when deciding where to take their children on outdoor trips. The bottom line though is that outdoor exposure is very important for the psychological development of young children. As this article shows it doesn’t matter if your children are babies or in primary school, they need to be encouraged or taken outside more often.