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When we think of the latest trends in 21st century education, the first ones that probably come to mind are technology or STEM related activities. But there is another growing trend taking place across North America and around the world that brings children back to the basics of nature by integrating outdoor time into the regular school day. Schools have begun to realize the importance of connecting children with the natural world by creating outdoor classrooms, edible gardens, forest classrooms, and natural playscapes. These outdoor spaces can be powerful teaching tools by serving as living and interactive educational spaces that inspire students to learn.

Lessons outdoors are inevitably cross-curricular covering everything from art to science to literature. They provide hands-on learning experiences that, not only teach students how to solve real world problems such as using math to configure edible gardens, but also provide them a closer connection to the natural world that is right outside their school doors. While learning in a traditional classroom setting is usually divided into subjects and compartmentalized, exploration and discovery outdoors allows children to make cross curricular connections in the moment. Children might use math and science skills to build a model dam or a house out of sticks and mud or they may practice spelling skills by creating words using natural materials. Nature has always been an inspiration for creative thinking and the outdoors is rich with opportunities for drawing and creative writing.

David Orr, renowned author and Professor of Environmental Studies, notes that outdoor learning causes children to, “feel a part of a diverse ecosystem rather than apart from it.” Here are just a few more of the many benefits to learning and spending time outdoors:

  • increased focus-neural pathways are opened
  • provides exercise
  • promotes healthy eating
  • immersive experiences make learning more meaningful
  • cultivates an appreciation for nature which, in turn, instills environmental stewardship
  • builds community
  • gain ”non-cognitive” skills of independence, self-regulation, and persistence
  • increased happiness!