Open the Doors to Outdoor Education
by Cindy Tran, Teacher Candidate
Today, education continues to grow and change. I realize there are endless possibilities we can offer to students today with the technology we have today and how we can impact change in school environments to help young students in their future education journey. As a student myself, I appreciate it when my school provides me with opportunities to expand my knowledge and develop new skills because I know I am growing as a learner.
When it comes to outdoor education, it is not offered much in schools. Personally, when I was a child, my school only offered some outdoor activities in certain classes. I wonder now, what if outdoor education was included as a regular curriculum? What skills could I have learned from it? How would the planet be now? I will be discussing how outdoor education should become part of the education curriculum for students.
Personal Growth ( Mental Health + Physical Health )
The growth of a child is not only about physical growth, it also involves their mental health as well. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 70% of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence. The school system should develop opportunities to help students deal with their mental health considering how important it is.
As I recall my education experience as a young student, I remember I developed stress from schoolwork. I did not know how to deal with stress because there weren’t many opportunities to relieve my stress during school hours or even at home. Again, I didn’t know I was dealing with stress, I just thought I couldn’t keep up with my class.Incorporating outdoor education could have helped me deal with stress. If we offer students the chance to relieve their stress at an early age, it can help their mental health in the future.
Anxiety: According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health , 1/3 of Ontario parents have had a child miss school due to anxiety. If schools offer outdoor education, it could reduce the incidence of students staying home because it may encourage them to attend school to participate in outdoor education activities.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) / Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
The exposure to nature can help reduce ADD symptoms for students. Participating in outdoor activities reduces a student’s time on their devices.
According to CTV News, some students received low grades in physical activity. They reported that only 35% of children from the ages of 5 to 17, and 62 % of kids from the ages of 3 to 4, are getting the recommended physical activity levels for their age groups. Both groups are also getting more screen time than is recommended. If we want to improve student’s interaction in physical education, we have to show them outdoor activities are fun and great for the body. We can’t force them to do physical activities, rather we should gradually teach them the benefits of outdoor activities by introducing them to simple activities to get them comfortable with the space. Outdoor education can be the first step to help students develop an interest in physical activities. For instance, outdoor education can offer students the chance to go on nature walks to explore different areas of their school community. Taking little steps can help motivate students to do well in physical education.
Some may argue a physical education curriculum is enough for students to engage in physical education. Indeed, physical education gives students a time to participate in sport activities, however, all students perform differently when it comes to physical education.Offering outdoor physical activities that don’t involve competition or sports skills can increase students’ enthusiasm and willingness to engage in physical education.
Developing the Classroom Outside the Classroom
Society is deeply wrapped around the idea that education is only seen through the lens of a classroom setting. Some people may argue outdoor education can limit student’s potential in their studies. However, what people do not realize is students are actually limited in their education through their lack of interaction with the natural world right outside. I remember when I was in elementary school, some students would ask my teacher, “How will math help in life, what is the point of doing these problems?”. As I grew up, some students continued to question my teachers on the work we did in class because they simply couldn’t find any connection with their work. This is where I realize now our schools failed to provide us with more opportunities to develop a connection with our schoolwork. Outdoor education can provide a series of opportunities for students to expand their knowledge in their studies, rather than limit.
Measurements: Students can learn how to apply measurements through outdoor resources as it gives them the opportunity to see how math can be applied in their lives.
– Measuring distances between objects around school community
– Estimating distances between objects
– Measuring amount of water given to plants when gardening
– Students can weigh how much soil they need for gardening
Statistics and Surveys: Teachers can ask students to break up into groups and each group will be assigned a certain location around the school. Students will be asked to find certain objects and record how much they found of each object.
They can record their information by:
– Implementing them into fractions or percentages
Directions: Students can learn how to apply directions through active activities. Today, people depend on their devices to help them with directions, hence, we need to encourage students to learn how to follow directions without their device.
– Scavenger hunt using a compass
– Developing a map (using graphing)
– Applying distances (using measurements)
– Nature walks can help students become aware of their community
– Children can have exposure to the things they are learning, for example, if they are learning about trees, outdoor education gives them the chance to physically see the trees
– More room and exposure when learning science outside: Students can participate in more experiments
– Growing plants: Students can learn about different soils, pollination, plant life cycles, or even naming common plants.
– Students can learn about seasonal changes
– Students can learn about the habitats for certain animals
– Students can learn to build compost area, bird feeders or houses
– Students can learn how to write observations for experiment reports
– Young students can practice the alphabet by playing eye spy outside
– Teachers can teach students the 8 parts of speech (nouns, verbs, etc.) by asking students to identify objects outside
– Journal entries: Students can write about their observations or anything they find interesting from nature
– Storytelling: Teachers can illustrate reading outside to get students engaged in the story
Children painting garden signs
The Movement of Inclusion:
Outdoor education can be seen as an opportunity for students with disabilities to explore their skills. Sometimes, students with disabilities have a hard time learning through reading, writing, or can’t communicate. Outdoor education can help them express their thoughts and ideas through hands-on work.
Long periods of time in a classroom setting may be a problem for some students with disabilities. For instance, a student with autism can be hyper- sensitive to bright lights or certain wavelengths of lights from the fluorescent lights in class. Thus, outdoor education can accommodate for autistic students by allowing them to have some time outside to feel comfortable when learning.
Students who have cerebral palsy can experience outdoor education through nature walks around the school community. The teacher can plan ahead by picking an area that is wheelchair accessible and asking another staff member to assist them during the walk. Also, the teacher would pick activities that fit everyone’s ability to ensure no one feels overwhelmed. The option to have outdoor activities can help students feel welcomed and motivated to learn.
Additionally, outdoor education develops a connection between disabled and non-disabled students. Students with disabilities may have a hard time making friends and non-disabled students may not know how to interact with disabled students. Outdoor education can offer activities to help students come together and learn from one another. We want to develop inclusivity in school and teach students to always include others no matter their differences.
Teachers can establish a buddy system for outdoor activities. A student who has a disability can be paired up with a student without a disability. This can help students to get to know each other and share their skills with one another. We want to bring students together rather than divide. This system can enhance social skills, communication skills, and teamwork skills among the students. Once students become comfortable with one another, the system can be expanded into groups.
Preparing Children for the Future of the Environment
We want children to develop strategies that will protect our world and save humanity as a whole. Outdoor education can be the first step to help students become aware they have a huge role in the future to protect our world.
They can learn to :
– Develop environmental responsibility
– Promote a positive interaction with nature
– Promote green infrastructure such as gardens and parks
– Prevent climate change from increasing
– Prevent pollution in the environment