There have been many articles over the last few years about the benefits of getting children outside.
Being outside has an impact on their physical, mental and emotional health, it brings a contrast to the sedentary and indoor pursuits that can become addictive like gaming for example, and it brings them into contact with the natural world consequentially building knowledge, confidence and an awareness of environmental issues.
Parents are urged to encourage kids to be outside as much as possible and this is usually associated with play, recreational or sport activities. However, another opportunity for outdoor time can be during study time, normally associated with the indoors; through taking lessons and educational activities out. This creates the added advantage of increased engagement with lessons and with education.
“You can teach any subject on the beach” claims Ms Murray from the organisation Beach Schools South West, recently featured on the bbc news.
The company is dedicated to providing opportunities for children to learn outdoors, particularly on the beach, as this not only enhances their wellbeing but engages them with lessons and learning in a way sitting in a classroom does not.
It is similar to Forest Schools, the organisation which provides a learner-centred approach to learning in a natural setting, particularly woodland, where children are less confined and generally behave better and participate in learning more readily and happily.
The Natural Connections Demonstration project was a study which gathered evidence to support the many benefits of taking lessons outside, and support educational providers in doing so. The benefits included increased attention to lessons conducted outside, an improvement in behaviour, and a general feeling of wellbeing and happiness with their learning. Even the teachers reported feeling happier with the lessons conducted outside than those confined to a classroom.
It is an approach to learning that many home educating families already use very successfully. With the flexibility homeschooling provides families have the opportunity to take much of their learning outside.
And the content does not have to be limited directly to environmental or natural sciences; reading, writing, studying of any sort can be accomplished successfully in a garden, park, or any outdoor space, as homeschooling approaches show.
Their learning is often done with others and, despite large chunks of time spent learning outdoors in a less formal setting, these children still go on to graduate into higher education or work, providing proof that other venues for learning than those found within the four walls of a classroom really work.
We have been conditioned to accept that learning is only valid if a learner is in a formal setting at a desk in quiet and academic surroundings. This approach may be the best for some children, but they are probably in the minority. The majority of children are more likely to engage better in a less pressured environment, which could equally be outside.
Some parts of the curriculum would be difficult to provide outside. But there is probably far more than we realise which could be delivered in a natural setting. And this would more successfully address the needs of those children who better engage that way, who otherwise tend to be disregarded.
Parents, tutors or teachers could take advantage of these findings and take their children’s learning outside as much as possible to help keep them engaged.