The Advantage of Outdoor Classrooms
Now, more than ever, outdoor classrooms are vitally important to a child’s well-being and development.
For decades children have spent an increasing amount of time indoors. Factors such as working parents, safety concerns, and availability of the proper space have led to babies and toddlers spending more time in day care facilities and earlier enrollment in school or other educational programs. Many early childhood experts believe this trend has seriously compromised children’s overall health, development and even their future learning potential.
“The optimal learning and growing environment for young children is composed of a full integration of indoor and outdoor spaces. The Outdoor Classroom enhances and adds to the limited scope of activities available inside confined classrooms by providing for hands-on experiences, physical activity, social-emotional growth through peer interaction, and multifaceted approaches to cognitive development that connect children to nature and maximize their learning outcomes.” –The Outdoor Classroom Project
Benefits of an Outdoor Classroom
Schools and day care centers that offer outdoor classrooms can offer tremendous benefits to children. In addition, they provide an added value to their educational programs and administrators often see an improvement in enrollment.
In a survey developed by Samuel Dennis Jr and Alexandra Wells of the Environmental Design Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison1, they found that educators utilizing outdoor classrooms saw positive development in children, including those with special needs. Further, administrators saw in increase in interest in their programs and an increase in staff satisfaction.
Outdoor Classrooms for Children
Children of all ages can benefit from an outdoor classroom, whether it is adjacent to a school or day care center, attached to a playground, or even in a natural environment. Studies have shown that children who experience at least a portion of their day in an outdoor learning environment experience cognitive and psychological benefits as well as the more obvious physical benefits.
Outdoor Learning Benefits to Children:
- Increases curiosity and interest in science and nature
- Improves understanding of the physical environment and appreciation of the natural world
- Encourages learning through investigation, problem-solving and observation
- Cultivates personal responsibility
- Advances physical development, capability, and activity
- Promotes an active, healthy lifestyle
- Improves emotional wellness and self-esteem
Components of an Outdoor Classroom
What is it that makes up a successful outdoor learning environment for children? For starters there must be some structure or curricula. Without structure, an outdoor classroom is simply a playground. And while there are countless benefits to children while playing on a playground, an outdoor classroom should offer guided learning.
Educators and caregivers designing an outdoor classroom should consider both a space for classroom-style learning as well as exploratory or self-guided learning. Equipping a physical space with tables, benches or stools, and shelter are important components to children’s safety. Additional components such as raised stages, chalkboards or writing boards help define the space. Even subject matter specific pieces like musical instruments, educational banners or art boards can add learning stations to an outdoor classroom.
Whatever the space, outdoor classrooms offer children a variety both educational and fun ways to master motor-skills, language and communication, creativity, and social and emotional development.
Even for infants and toddlers, well-designed outdoor educational spaces can provide safe access to an array of sights, sounds, and textures that can broaden their understanding of the world we live in.
Today’s Changing Classroom Environment
With the uncertain nature of indoor or close-contact learning environments, many schools and education centers are turning to outdoor learning options. Social distancing can be difficult with an indoor classroom. This is why outdoor classrooms are becoming popular in hundreds of school districts across the United States.
Creating the perfect, functional outdoor classroom can be as simple as providing a place for children to sit. Depending on the space that is designated for learning, it is important to have structurally sound components that are meant for the outdoors. Careful planning can make for a positive educational experience for children and teachers alike.
Nature of Early Play offers outdoor classroom equipment designed specifically for children, infants through age five. Our early childhood experts have developed commercial-grade outdoor learning components for classrooms, crafts, reading time, science projects, music lessons and gardening. Our full product line products includes tables, musical instruments, storage sheds, art panels, chalkboards, garden beds, sensory water and sand tables and much more. And, all products are made from recycled materials!