The Great Outdoors……it isn’t just one of my all time favorite movies it is where my family chooses to spend almost all of our free time. Whether it is winter and we are out on the ice skating or ice fishing, summer and we find ourselves on the water paddle boarding and swimming we are out enjoying the great outdoors all year round..
This summer, as I sit back and watch my almost 9 year old experience nature by finding turtles, snorkeling while discovering clams, and learning to water ski for the first time, I am not only fortunate that we are able to provide her these experiences but I am also reflecting on how much she is learning through these opportunities!
As she found the baby turtles my husband and I were able to talk with her about the characteristics of reptiles, types of turtles, and predators. When she snorkels she is discovering the world beneath the surface of the water by checking out different species of fish, rocks, and freshwater mussels.
And don’t get me started about all the learning that took place as she demonstrated her HUGE growth mindset as she learned to water ski! The patience, determination, and athleticism that she displayed during the hour and a half (straight) that she tackled this challenge was inspiring.
Now I know that my daughter has these learning experiences with my husband and I constantly as we are outside whenever possible, but it got me thinking….how many opportunities does she have to explore the great outdoors and learn through experiencing nature/life when at school?
I recently read an Edutopia article about a first grade classroom that did “Wednesday in the Woods” where they kick off each Wednesday morning with about 15 min. in their “sit spots” outside in the woods observing, writing, and connecting with themselves and nature. Just 15min. each Wednesday morning to see, think and wonder about the world larger than themselves, to spark curiosity and provide time for quiet reflection…..How amazing would that be for all students?!?!?
In March of 2020 four thought partners from environmental education organizations formed the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative to encourage school districts to look at providing education outside the four walls of the classroom as an alternative way to re-open schools in the midst of a global pandemic (1). Research has shown that there are several social, emotional and academic benefits of allowing learning to take place outside the classroom.
Here are just a few of the many benefits that you and your students could benefit from by lowering the walls and enjoying the great outdoors together:
• It is fun for you, the teacher, and for your students – I don’t know about you, but when I was a teacher I often felt trapped in my classroom. Between having to schedule when I use the washroom to feeling that I couldn’t leave the four walls of my classroom until a lunch break or planning period, it played a toll on me. I would often schedule extra recess or brain breaks, but what if these moments of reprieve could be more intentional and consistent by implementing a “Wednesday in the Woods” model? Not only would I be excited for those 15 minutes of outdoor learning, but I know my students would appreciate and be excited too! As the teacher, you then get to experience nature through the eyes of a child – that my faithful readers is priceless!
• It is beneficial to students’ health and well-being – The physical activity, vitamin D, and fresh air students are exposed to as they learn outside are not only great for them physically but mentally too! Being outside as a class builds a sense of community, strengthens collaboration and cooperation while fostering social and emotional skills that will last a lifetime as they connect with their peers and learn to care for and protect nature. Research shows that being outdoors can reduce depression, reduce stress, and fight anxiety (2).
• Increases students’ academy performance – American Institutes for Research (AIR) conducted a study to measure the impact when students participated in an outdoor education program in California (3). The results showed that not only did students enjoy coming to school, had lower absenteeism rates, had increased standardized test scores, and had improved behavior in school.
As you can see, implementing an outdoor education program or routine has so many benefits! I know it can feel overwhelming to think about implementing something new, but don’t feel like this is just one more thing to fit into your already full schedule, but rather a meaningful way for students to connect with themselves and reflect. You can use this time as an opportunity for students to read, write, observe and wonder. I promise you this time will be beneficial for your students and for you! It is time to go enjoy the great outdoors!
- “Make Outdoor Learning Your Plan A.” 18 Aug. 2021, https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/21/08/make-outdoor-learning-your-plan. Accessed 17 Jul. 2022.
- “Mental Health Benefits of the Outdoors | Lifeworks Counseling Center.” 26 Jun. 2020, https://lifeworkscc.com/mental-health-benefits-outdoors/. Accessed 17 Jul. 2022.
- “Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California.” 31 Jan. 2005, http://www.seer.org/pages/research/AIROutdoorSchool2005.pdf. Accessed 17 Jul. 2022.