Outdoor learning isn’t just about children getting fresh air and exercise in between lessons. Nature ignites passion, inspiration, curiosity and purpose, and it plays a crucial role in the cognitive, emotional and physical development of children. Here we explore the benefits of outdoor learning for your child.
With the news that children aged five-seven spend an average of four hours behind a screen every day, the need for children to spend time outdoors seems to never have been greater.
Forest schools are an exciting opportunity for children to learn through sessions which are non-academic and led by a qualified instructor, encouraging outdoor education in a controlled setting. This can come in a range of forms, from group treasure hunts to woodland building exercises.
These schools encourage children to ditch the computer screen and spend more time outdoors. In fact, forest schools and outdoor learning within schools are actually becoming an increasingly popular choice for parents across the UK.
What are the Benefits of Outdoor Education at School?
According to a survey of 200 establishments by the Forest School Association (FSA), two-thirds have seen a rise in requests for places since March 2020. We spoke to Muddy Puddles who discovered some of the key benefits of children learning outdoors.
Social and Communication Skills
Forest schools and learning outside are a great way for children to socialise with their peers. Whether they’re jumping in muddy puddles or foraging for wild berries, children are able to work within a team and complete their tasks. In fact, research from Plymouth University found that 93% of forest schools believed children developed their social skills whilst enrolled.
Moreover, forest schools are an opportunity to meet new children. The average number of pupils in reception and KS1 classrooms is 26.6, according to GOV UK. Forest schools introduce a new selection of children who may be from different backgrounds or be of different ages. This better prepares children for meeting more diverse groups of people in later life.
Confidence and Independence
If your child exhibits any signs of social anxiety, it may be harder for them to take part. However, participating in forest schools can actually boost confidence. Critical life skills such as leadership, teamwork, resilience, good judgement and persistence can all be developed outdoors, with much evidence to show that they enhance performance back in the classroom.
As well as building the social skills to work well within a team, forest schools offer the chance to complete tasks by themselves. This includes a range of activities, such as charting the species of plants or flowers they find in a specific outdoor area.
Motor and Cognitive Abilities
More often than not, traditional schools focus on academic education. There are physical education (or PE) lessons, but these do not make up the bulk of the day. Instead, children practise their literacy and numeracy skills within the confines of a classroom.
Forest schools allow children to stay more active; not only is this regular exercise important for bone and muscle strength, but it is also instrumental in developing childhood motor skills. Physical activity could also improve cognitive function in children, including the ability to recall information and flexible thinking. This is beneficial for many areas of life, including excelling in traditional schools.
A Sustainable Mindset
Sustainability is at the forefront of society at the moment and keeping things planet-friendly is more crucial than ever. As the nation strives to achieve net-zero, teaching children about the environment has never been more important.
During lessons at forest school, children develop a sustainable mindset through learning about the world around them – something that’s a lot more likely than a child who spends most of their time inside, whether at home or in a classroom.
Dr Amanda Lloyd, a leading researcher and advocate of outdoor learning says of children who have taken their curriculum into the outdoors: “Their oral skills and vocabulary improved because they weren’t scared to practise them in an informal environment. They were more focused, more engaged and on task because it had real-world meaning.”
In addition to the many benefits, forest school helps children to have fun. If they learn something along the way – from the importance of ecology to the ability to work well in a team – that is a welcome bonus.
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