From forest schools to purpose-built plazas, outdoor learning spaces offer inquisitive minds an opportunity to expand their horizons. Outdoor learning takes students from the closed parameters of the classroom to an inspiring open-air environment.
While the idea of holding class outside of the traditional classroom may seem like a new concept, it’s actually a tried-and-true method.
The world’s first modern open-air school opened in Germany in 1904. Conceived as a way to counter the tuberculosis epidemic, outdoor schooling offered a safer alternative to the indoor model. What started as a necessity transformed into an opportunity, and four years later, plenty more outdoor schools opened throughout Europe and the US.
As these newly opened institutions discovered, outdoor learning spaces offer more than fresh air. Today, outdoor learning is an enticing option for students and parents seeking a different approach to progressive education—and All Saints’ Episcopal Day School is at the forefront of this trend toward better schooling.
But why adopt this methodology? And what are the benefits of outdoor learning spaces?
#1 Outdoor Learning Promotes Healthy Living
Of course, when you consider the history of outdoor learning, it’s obvious that students’ well-being is (this does depend on the weather) improved.
Pandemic or not, holding class outdoors can help keep kids from falling ill. Outdoor spaces offer:
- More airflow
- More opportunities for personal space
- More sunlight, which can help kill bacteria
What’s more, being outside can expose you to more vitamin D. Nicknamed the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D promotes healthy bones and supports immune function.
Spending time outside in nature can even reduce stress, which contributes to less muscle tension, lower cortisol levels, and slowed heart rates—all of which decrease the risk of heart disease.
Overall, spending more time outside can be a healthier choice for students.
#2 Being Outside Encourages Physical Activity
An obvious limitation of the traditional classroom is space. When you move students outdoors, you immediately gain access to a “classroom” of infinite proportions.
With all that space comes the ability to spread one’s wings. When students are already outside, there are more opportunities for activity—both planned and spontaneous. All of a sudden, healthy movement and stretching are no longer limited to gym class.
And regular exercise isn’t just beneficial to your child’s physical health—it can also help improve cognitive health. Studies have shown that even a few minutes of light activity throughout the day can help boost focus and memory.
These so-called “brain breaks” are much easier to incorporate into an outdoor environment.
#3 Outdoor Learning Commands Greater Respect for the World Around Us
When children spend time in the natural world, they can learn to appreciate the environment and all living things. That appreciation often leads to more respect for our planet and ecosystem—and a drive to conserve nature through stewardship and green initiatives.
Students who spend time in an outdoor learning space may be encouraged to partake in environmentally-friendly practices, such as:
- Avoiding food waste
- Seeking out renewable energy
- Taking transit or walking instead of driving
- Shopping locally
Given that it’s more important than ever to raise a new generation of environmentally conscious students, outdoor learning spaces can be a perfect portal to understanding these principles.
#4 Social Bonds Blossom Outside
Because of the non-traditional arrangements that outdoor learning offers, students have more opportunities to work together.
Inside, rows of side-by-side desks are the standard, making peer-to-peer collaboration a logistical challenge. By comparison, outdoor learning allows for less conventional seating and meeting arrangements. Students can sit around picnic tables, form circles in a grass field, or pair up along the edges of a courtyard.
What’s more, your child’s opportunities for communication and collaboration aren’t limited to kids from their grade. Other classes may use the outdoor space at the same time, giving students a chance to work alongside younger and older peers.
Ultimately, with more freedom to form groups begets more experience with teamwork.
This benefit isn’t strictly anecdotal, either. Researchers have noted on several occasions that outdoor learning helps increase social cohesion.
#5 Outdoor Experiences Foster Discipline
While the inside world of the traditional classroom is a predictable environment, the outside world is always evolving. Every day, outside learning presents students with new challenges that they must safely and effectively navigate.
Factors that students must learn to prepare for and adapt to include:
- Changing weather
- New locations
- Travel to and from places
Each new experience can help instill a sense of responsibility and resilience in students of every age. The discipline comes from listening to teachers and authority figures when asked to steer clear certain pathways or pay attention while crossing the street. In an outdoor environment, students quickly learn that respect—for oneself, others, and nature—is essential.
#6 Learner-Centered Curriculum Pairs Well With Outdoor Learning
Outdoor learning offers a change in scenery that invites other pivots in standardized education.
For example, outdoor learning spaces are perfect for experimenting with a learner-centered curriculum
. Learner-centered classrooms differ from traditional classrooms in that they shift the focus from the teacher to the student.
In most classrooms, all eyes are on the instructor as they give lectures and move through lesson plans. By contrast, a student-centered curriculum gives students a say in the planning and assessment process.
In other words, kids are actively encouraged to take control of their learning.
As you can imagine, the expanded space, non-traditional structure, and additional resources of an outdoor learning environment make this prospect much more exciting for students.
#7 Outdoor Learning Takes a Hands-On Approach
Simply put, an outdoor classroom brings about opportunities that, for practical reasons, aren’t possible inside. Outdoor spaces present hands-on opportunities for:
- Studying nature – Between the trees, grass, bugs, and other critters, outdoor learning spaces are a budding biologist’s playground. Plus, future geologists can examine rocks and minerals, and those interested in earth scientists have access to soil samples galore.
- Conducting messy science experiments – Cleanup is easier outside, so it’s easier to try new things and make a mess.
- Learning outdoor skills – From tending to a garden to mastering the use of a compass, survival skills and outdoor learning go hand in hand.
Lastly—and this point can absolutely be a bit more abstract—outdoor learning can create a more joyous relationship between students and their education. It’s a change of pace, a new way of learning, and it can be a lot more fun for students.
Outdoor Learning With All Saints’ Episcopal Day School
At All Saints’ Episcopal Day School, we’re passionate about the benefits of outdoor learning spaces for children of all ages. With a visionary campus that blends indoor and outdoor learning, our teachers take a progressive approach to education that is still grounded in rich academics and service learning.
By adopting outdoor learning practices, we’re continuing to innovate the student experience and foster deeper connections with the beautiful world around us and academia.