- Teaching and Learning
With more and more schools required to take learning outside this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been increased attention to outdoor education overall. Many parents (and teachers!) are surprised at how well students have adapted to, what may be for many, a new learning environment.
However, educators who were already accustomed to working in the natural environment “pre-pandemic” are not surprised. With more than 90 acres of fields, streams, and woods just outside their classroom doors, teachers at The Independence School know just how valuable learning in nature can be.
There is a large and growing body of research on the topic of outdoor education which affirms that integrating outside time into the school day strengthens learning in all academic areas. Streams are live science labs, plants and flowers inspire works of art, and the stillness of a natural setting allows the mind to settle. When learning outdoors, sticks and branches become measurement tools, old paths and trails allow students to explore the history of the land and wonder about those who may have come before them. The possibilities for content-rich lessons are as limitless as the sky itself.
While the academic benefits on their own merit consideration, research also shows that outdoor learning is valuable in ways that parents - or even educators - may not realize.
According to research conducted by the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, (affiliated with The Independence School's partners at Nature Explore) regular time in nature...
- facilitates social development and well-being
- improves physical fitness, including both fine-motor and gross-motor skills
- supports creativity and imaginative play
- reduces violence and bullying
- reduces stress and
- creates feelings of empathy for plants and animals, thus developing the next generation of environmental stewards.
Researchers consistently note that for most of human existence, human beings spent a majority of their childhoods immersed in outdoor environments where they interacted with nature regularly. We knew this before the onset of the pandemic, and we recognize now – more than ever – the value in getting the kids outside. To learn, to play, and to grow into caring adults we hope them to be.
Bernadette Gilmore is the Director of Academic Innovation at Independence, having previously served as Director of Academics & Curriculum, Head of Lower School, and a Kindergarten teacher during her more than two decades with the school. She is also a team member of Independence's Center for Wellness, Innovation, and Learning (CWIL™).