Did you know that children that spend a lot of time outdoors develop better concentration skills, increased self-esteem and become better at cooperating? There is more and more research into the benefits of outdoor education, much of this is focused on the health of children and adolescents. Lotta Söderström works with developing educational quality atI Ur och Skur, and this includes monitoring new research.
“It’s very interesting that more research is being done into the benefits of outdoor education. We’ve been working like this for many years and our collective experience is of course that it works, but now there is actually scientific proof.”
Outdoor education is not just about having lessons outdoors, even though that is obviously part of it. It involves interaction, with the combination of theory and practice, experiencing and reflecting being the most important elements. It’s about activating several senses, gaining experiences and seeing things in their natural environment. 1: Research shows that time in green environments reduces the levels of stress in the body, and has a positive impact on learning.2:
“If you want to be outdoors with your children, my tip is to choose places where you can say yes instead of no, and that the children can revisit time and time again. That way you will both feel at ease when there and can take the time to explore it in depth.
There are four knowledge principles that apply when learning something new: facts, skills, familiarity and understanding. Since outdoor education uses a place as both the classroom and the content for the lesson, there are more points of contact to help the knowledge stick.
“Our activities are built on curiosity and wonder. When children see things in their natural environment, experience them together and solve problems, several senses are engaged and combine with the knowledge principles to aid learning. As a bonus, children’s motor fitness and balance get stronger when they run and jump over roots, logs and stones.”
Research has also shown that children under the age of 12 that spend a lot of time outdoors and do outdoor recreation often generate a lifelong interest.* This also brings long-term effects in the shape of environmental awareness, a desire to take care of nature and an intention to lead a healthier lifestyle (food and exercise habits.).
“When the children have been out in the forest all morning, and it’s time for lunch, they are usually really hungry and eat well. If we then stay outdoors during lunch, this immediately creates a little extra time to reflect on the outing.”
Not only does outdoor education impact the individual, it also has an interesting effect on group dynamics. When children discover and explore together, their classmates and friends become more important as everybody is needed to solve problems.4: Which in itself increases creativity and self-esteem when they manage a task.
Ideas for more everyday time outdoors
• Dance outdoors
Take your phone and a speaker outside, play your favourite song and dance! Even shorter moments outside decrease the stress levels in the body, just after four minutes.
• Find your favourite places
Visit places close by – and go there often. Children like to go to the same places often. When they become familiar with a place children feel at ease by that favourite tree, and happy when they manage to jump from that big rock.
• Encourage curiosity
Sometimes we adults are afraid that children will ask us questions that we don’t know the answer to. Try to resist the fear and encourage curiosity. Find out the facts together as soon as the question arises, or take a fact-book to your favourite place and read it together.
• Chose the place for your outing carefully
Select a place based on the season and what you want to do. Don’t go to places where you as an adult need to say No a lot.
THE POWER OF PLAYING
Research has identified six strong forces that encourage playing. Children want to test their limits, both physically and mentally. You probably recognise them, and know that they can sometimes act as magnets for children. If you can safely use any of these during your outing, you are sure to get the child’s attention. The six forces are:
• Explore heights (climb, jump, balance)
• Experience fast speeds (swing, slide, run, bike)
• Approach dangerous elements of the landscape (learn to overcome cliffs, deep water, thin ice, fire)
• Explore regular and dangerous tools (carving, chopping, sawing)
• Physical battles (wrestling, fighting, struggling)
• Out on their own (testing their courage, getting lost, being away from the control of the adults)
Children have mixed emotions when they take on physical risks to test their limits, and by facing these challenges and overcoming them they gain better self-esteem.
Source: Gustavsson, L., & Söderberg, L. (2021). I Ur och Skur Experience-based learning for sustainable lifestyles in practice. Klippan: Friluftsfrämjandet (Swedish Outdoor Association) I Ur och Skur utveckling AB.