“What’s important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it and feel comfortable in it, before being asked to heal its wounds.”

David Sobel

Why are modern educators ditching the classroom for the great outdoors?

Educational theorist Froebel initially envisioned kindergarten as an outdoor space where children could learn and interact through play. Since then, this concept has fallen by the wayside and the once nature-based exploration programs were exchanged for familiar indoor classrooms. However, it seems that garden and forest schools are gaining traction once again. There are many benefits of outdoor learning. Not only is it fun and engaging, but it also has positive implications on both health and academic performance, helps children develop a sense of civic duty and stewardship, and engages families and community.

Helps to develop a sense of civic duty and stewardship

Children familiar with the outdoors begin building  connections in and out of the classroom. The  water cycle and natural food chain are units that inherently lend themselves to outdoor learning. As students acquire firsthand experience with the outside world, an attachment develops. This attachment (or affection) is a powerful motivator for environmental stewardship. Children exposed to the outdoors will grow up with a love for all nature has to offer and will grow into environmentally aware citizens.

In an article by Judith Boss called Outdoor Education and the Development of Civic Responsibility, she says:

“Outdoor education includes more than studies of nature, although learning about the environment is certainly an important aspect of this educational tradition. It encompasses the use of the outdoor environment–whether natural or man-made–to promote learning from experience and enrichment of nearly any subject in the curriculum.

She goes on to explain how students prepare for civic responsibility by practicing in the world around them.  96 studies done between 1968 and 1994 conclude that outdoor education is a large contributor to a sense of empowerment in youth. This empowerment can jumpstart  an individual’s interest and involvement in civic responsibilities. Often, the lack of participation arises from a feeling of disempowerment and fear that one cannot contribute to change.

Positive implications on health and academic performance

Think of an indoor classroom environment. Likely the first image that popped into your mind was of students sitting at their desks. Now, think of an outdoor classroom environment. Which of these learning contexts do you think promotes more activity and movement?

Not only can class lesson plans take advantage of the green space, but it presents opportunities for movement that would otherwise be inappropriate for an indoor setting. Students can walk, jump, climb, crawl, and run when they are outdoors! Physical Education used to be the only class that would use outdoor space; however, physical movement can be more readily incorporated into other subjects (i.e. mathematics, science, language, art, etc.) if space is provided to support the movement.

Moreover, the link between environmental learning and increased academic performance was explored by the State Educational and Environment Roundtable (SEER) through a study called Ditching the Classroom for the great outdoorsDitching the Classroom for the great outdoorsDitching the Classroom for the great outdoors . The study found a direct correlation between environmental learning and higher scores on standardized measures, reduced discipline and classroom management, increased student engagement, and greater pride and ownership in student accomplishments. Since this 1998 study, SEER has published additional studies on the positive effects that outdoor learning has had on student academic achievement.

Engages families and community

Outdoor learning not only benefits students by being in nature but also allows for many connections to be made. The surrounding community can play a large role in outdoor education. This can happen through social events, fundraisers, and church related activities.

To name a few events that involve the community in and around CNCS:

Terry Fox Run – neighboring families join the students as they run around our school grounds to raise awareness and money for cancer research.

Bottle Drive Fundraising for Quebec and Ottawa – community members contribute empty bottles or cash donations to help fund the grade 7 and 8 Quebec and Ottawa trip.

Family Fun Night – Community members plan and host a family games night in the gymnasium at the school.

Youth Group – The assistant minister hosts a discussion group and activities evening in the high school for children grade 6 through grade 12.

Sunday School and Church Related Activities – the surrounding community is closely connected to the church and school, contributing to

Canada Day Celebration – community members plan and celebrate a Canada picnic and activities day. Families join in on the celebration hosted on the grounds by participating in races, water balloon tosses, barbecue, and watching the fireworks display.

Carmel New Church Outdoor Learning Initiatives

The sizable grounds at Carmel New Church School lend themselves to outdoor learning. Unlike with many schools where teachers must coordinate and book their outdoor spaces, there is enough room for every class to be outdoors at the same time in a different location. Our grade 1 and 2 teacher, Miss Laura, has planned a new initiative for utilizing the outdoor learning space at CNCS. The goal is to take advantage of the ground’s forest space to create nature-based play spaces and an accessible trail with learning pods and outdoor classrooms. These areas will incorporate seating, steppingstones, log balance beams, and native species plantings, creating a rich learning environment for students.The school is looking for community support through GoFundMe. More information is available here.

When outdoor learning isn’t an option due to weather, each of our indoor classrooms beautifully reflect the outdoors. With large windows that let in light and overlook green space, nature-inspired indoor play nooks, friendly classroom pets and miniature biomes, the outdoors are brought indoors.

Froebels’s initial idea of Kindergarten is making a comeback with CNCS initiatives and education models. The many benefits of outdoor learning including academic success, civic engagement and community involvement can be experienced here!