Local school backs study that finds being outdoors benefits learning

Learning outdoors has a wide range of benefits for children. Photo: supplied.


MANY teachers and schools have known for a long time that learning outdoors has a range of benefits for nearly every child.

A recent University of South Australia study has found growing evidence that taking the classroom outdoors may improve physical activity, learning, mental health and wellbeing, engagement in class and social skills.

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Doctoral candidate, Nicole Miller, and her colleagues, have summarised 20 studies of nature-based learning from across the globe over the past 18 years.

Ms Miller said, “The evidence suggests that taking the classroom outdoors could be a great way to include more incidental physical activities into a child’s day.”

The link between learning in nature and lower obesity rates is not new, but it is significant because only 19 per cent of Australian children are meeting the World Health Organization’s recommended levels of 60 minutes of moderate exercise a day.

Ms Miller said, “Globally, the figures are even worse, with a recent study of 12 countries showing that just 4.8 per cent of children aged between 5-19 years are doing moderate to vigorous exercise for an hour each day.”

Nature-based learning can range from holding normal classes outdoors, to more strenuous activities such as constructing shelters, and group games.

Apart from the physical benefits, the evidence suggests that nature-based learning is more enjoyable and hands-on than in a traditional classroom, so children may be more likely to retain their understanding and stay focused throughout the lesson.

Learning about the environment while in nature is an obvious benefit, but the researchers also referenced studies showing the mental health benefits in adults who had spent significant time in nature in their childhood.

“Previous research has found links that suggest adults with a low exposure to nature in childhood had significantly poorer mental health and a greater risk of psychiatric disorders,” Ms Miller said.

Elsbeth Haenggi, the Principal of the Casuarina Steiner School in Coffs Harbour, supports the findings of the study.

She told News Of The Area that learning outdoors is a consciously-planned cornerstone of the school curriculum.

Ms Haenggi said the school has two school gardens, one for younger children and one for upper primary, which are regularly used for lessons.

The school integrates its subjects and Ms Haenggi said that its bush-type setting and adjacent Crown Land provides plants and habitat for smaller animals for children to observe and study.

The school also runs camps, mainly set outdoors, that are tailored to what each class is learning.

For example, grade 3 usually have a farming camp, while grade 5 go to a Gibraltar Ranges bush camp.

Grade 6 head west to Coonabarabran for their camp to study geology and astronomy.

Apart from the social aspects of being in a group to pitch a tent and cook meals, being in nature provides multi-sensory learning of such things as how to make a fire or indigenous perspectives and leads to children following up their own open-ended inquiries and being much more engaged in school.

Ms Haenggi said that learning outdoors benefits academic learning (graduates have performed very well in secondary school) and teamwork, collaboration and self-directed learning also helps social and emotional well-being.

“Learning in nature encourages curiosity, which is at the heart of learning,” she said.


By Andrew VIVIAN

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