Outdoor Learning  Environments

Outdoor play is a very important part of a child’s learning experience and life in general. Research indicates increased outdoor play time has been shown to reduce outbursts by children with behavior issues. Children with Autism are calmed and do better with given tasks when provided with outdoor play time. I think there’s a positive, healthy outcome to outdoor play time. Children are able to release tension, get out the wiggles and release their excess energy. Also vigorous play helps to reduce stress levels as an effect of releasing built up energy and tension. A child needs opportunities for vigorous outdoor activities each day. According to state requirements a child should have at least a recommended minimum of thirty minutes per day of vigorous outdoor play time.

Not only is outdoor play beneficial for a child’s stress level, energy level and concentration, but it also benefits the gross motor skills development. Running, jumping, hopping, skipping, climbing and chase games are all helping with gross motor skills development. Grasping small, natural objects like leaves, twigs and seeds help with fine motor skills development.

The outdoor play environment should be designed in a way that encourages inquiry, examination, and invites running, jumping, and climbing. It should also challenge and stimulate children and create a sense of belonging. The teacher can create effective outdoor learning programs and improve the physical environment based on developmental and individual needs of the children in his or her care. Teachers who are willing to explore, have a sense of wonder with children will draw them into learning. The outdoor program and space should address the child as a whole- physical, emotional, cognitive and social development should be considered.

Some outdoor design considerations include providing curvy paths, open spaces, and places of solitude. Areas of play need to have lots of space and natural areas for gross motor skills development such as large rocks for climbing, tree roots for jumping and walking on. Natural experiment must be encouraged by the outdoor environment. A place for music or music garden, can be provided by hanging pots and pans for the children to beat with a stick. With this being outside, the children can play music as hard as they would like to express themselves! Also a place for a vegetable or flower garden would benefit children as it allows the kids to work together for a common goal, teaching social skills. Digging in the dirt releases endorphins in the brain which can reduce depression. Private spaces can be designed by placing lattice around a bench, giving a secluded feeling. The overall design and program of the outdoor learning environment should be focused on play with the intention of learning. We as educators must remember this as we plan the design of our outdoor environments.