I’ve Always Been a Biophile, but I Had No Idea Until Now
My Experiences with Outdoor Learning Growing Up
When I was about 4 years old, I ‘graduated’ from nursery in a proper cap and gown made for very little people. I received a certificate and a gift, and my parents were incredibly proud, but me? I was annoyed. I was annoyed because just one week earlier the nursery had built an awesome new wooden play set on the nursery grounds. To my four-year-old eyes, which to be fair were probably already in need of glasses, this play set shone like a beacon, it was in fact the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Despite my enduring love for this pile of wood, I only ever got to play on it once before nursery was over and it was time for summer and then on to the super scary ‘big school’.
Let’s say then that I moved on from this pain (which would be a lie) and enjoyed several prosperous years in primary school having forgotten what I’d lost until suddenly… it happened again. Towards the end of my time at primary school, the school suddenly up and decided that outdoor learning was the in thing and built an outdoor classroom at the bottom of the playground and I, once again, fell in love with a beautiful pile of wood. Alas, I got to enjoy the outdoor classroom only twice before teachers gave up on using it because of Scotland’s one immovable constant: rain.
What I don’t think the teachers understood was, we didn’t care that it was raining and cold and damp. We didn’t care because we were outside in the fresh air, no longer crammed into a classroom and stuffed behind desks looking at a smartboard. Suddenly, we were all very eager to learn because we’d do anything to stay outside just a little longer.
My mum always asks me how I remember such random little things such as these two memories and the answer is that I was betrayed, and I will never forgive those who… I’m kidding, I’m kidding (sort of). The fact of the matter is that when I think back on my school experience at any age, what I remember most vividly were the times we got to go outside. Whether it was to do what we’d usually do such as maths or English but out in the sun (on those glorious but rare sunny days in Scotland), or whether we were learning about the outdoors and nature, or we were getting involved in gardening and getting our hands a little mucky – these are the school days I remember because these were the times when I felt happy, involved, and free. It wasn’t until sitting down to write this blog that I realised how much value outdoor learning holds for me personally let alone for children all over the world.
Why we at Curious Minds Love Outdoor Learning/Play
Flash forward to now and I’m working in a tardis-esque toy shop (seriously, it’s bigger on the inside, come check it out), and getting ready for summer by stocking in plenty of outdoor toys and outdoor learning tools. We have everything from frisbees to bug viewers to sandcastle buckets to sun print paper. We even have our very own bee-friendly wildflower seeds ready and waiting to fill your garden full to bursting with colour. The question that’s on my mind while getting all this ready for you is, why is outdoor learning/play so fundamental and why did it mean so much to me as a child? I can’t very well tell you to send your child out searching for ants and other creepy crawlies without good reason so let’s get into it.
I learnt a fascinating new term in my search for answers about nature and the outdoors’ impact on children and their learning. The term ‘biophilia’ was coined by a man called Dr Edward O. Wilson who was a Harvard naturalist. The word is simply used to describe his belief that human beings harbour a deep, primal connection to nature and the life forms that exist in nature. As a result of this, we are drawn to the outdoors and have a respect for it, so much so that spending too much time away from nature can have negative impacts on our senses, as well as our physical and emotional wellbeing. Doctors have even studied the link between time spent outdoors and lower risks of near-sightedness in children!
While this love for nature may be an innate human feeling that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require work and care just like any other form of love. Through learning outdoors and learning about the living world children will become more appreciative and caring towards nature. A quality we desperately need future generations to have and nurture. Schools with any level of environmental focus encourage children to look after the planet more through activities such as gardening, composting, and recycling.
Furthermore, caring for nature and its inhabitants seriously impacts on a child’s sense of empathy. Their feelings of empathy will grow and evolve as they observe the lives of plants and animals alike, both of which need a little love sometimes, not unlike us humans. That’s why we always say that if you use one of our bug viewers etc to remember to let the little fellas go after so that they can return to their busy lives.
Rows of Flowers not Rows of Desks
I mentioned earlier the freedom of escaping your cramped desk and classroom plastered in times tables for the welcoming outdoors but its not just me who felt that way. Children garner a greater feeling of independence and freedom when learning outdoors than in a typical classroom, which allows them better room for growth as a person, be it emotionally or behaviourally. Furthermore, children’s inclination to work together as a team is exponentially stronger when learning outside as they don’t feel forced into it like they do when all placed around a cramped table looking at one sheet of paper. Rather, working outside allows their imagination and confidence to grow so each group member contributes better to the task at hand.
More Green, Less Stress
You may not associate stress with a child, except perhaps your own stress, but children do have a lot going on in their little heads and spending some time outdoors is a great way to help alleviate some of this stress and upset. It has been proven that spending time in nature, surrounded by plants and wildlife and beautiful views is a huge de-stressor for children and adults alike. Even the simple act of a daily walk is known to massively reduce stress and anxiety. Time spent learning or playing outdoors is invaluable, it is not only good for mental and emotional health through the provision of a calming environment and meditative tasks such as gardening or studying plant and animal life but is also great for physical health too. Outdoor learning/play promotes exercise for children whether its rushing from flower to flower, planting seeds, or playing energetic outdoor games. It helps to create a healthy lifestyle for your children, and this little bit of exercise doesn’t only aid physical health but emotional health too.
But What About the Actual Schoolwork?!
To get straight to the point: outdoor learning, whether you’re studying fractions in nature or nature itself, is a fantastic tool but also one that works. In my research I came across studies citing massive grade increases for children learning outdoors versus those who didn’t. These studies also found that the children learning outdoors were far more motivated and interested in their classes, had higher attendance rates, better behaviour, and superior social and personal skills. Learning about nature in nature is an incredibly hands-on form of learning which is fantastic for children’s growth and development. Additionally, it feels relevant to children, not only because of our changing planet, but also because it’s something they can see and touch, its far more tangible than other subjects so they’re more invested and active. Plus, kids love to get mucky and play around with bugs, so why not employ a style of learning that not only allows them to grow and develop while supporting their physical and mental health, but that they’ll enjoy too.
For me, learning about nature in nature was never tiring or difficult, in fact it energised me and made me excited to go to school. Of course, school can’t always be about plants and the environment and playing outdoors but it can be sometimes and that sometimes might be just enough to make a big difference in your child’s life. Learning about our world, how it works, how to look after it, and who lives in it, is never not worthwhile. Not to mention, most of what we’ve talked about applies to adults too so why not get involved in the fun and learn a little about our wonderful planet while you’re at it.
Hope to see you outside!
The Curious Minds team.
Note from the writer: If your little one decides to collect snails or anything similar outside, don’t make the same mistake little me did and sequester all those snails in a large birdhouse… only their shells were left behind ....
Instead, why not try our Nick Baker’s Snail World or Bug Safari for a more positive learning experience without the tragic and somewhat traumatising ending.