Outdoor Classrooms

  • Students experience outdoor classrooms and the natural environment through self-play, exploration, imagination, new friendships, and freedom

  • The Outdoor Classroom’s vision is simple: children benefit from spending more time outdoors, especially in natural places. Its goal is equally simple: to increase the quantity, quality, and benefits of outdoor experiences for children. Here is an overview of the key features of the Outdoor Classroom:

  • Nature is an Important Learning Environment

    Learning takes place outdoors that doesn’t occur indoors. It is important, then, that outdoor environments be as richly and thoughtfully equipped as indoor ones. Children should be able to move seamlessly between indoors and outdoors; their play and learning should be as easy in one place as the other. Adults should not treat one location as more educational than the other.

  • Freedom for Children to Play on Their Own

    A fundamental principle of the Outdoor Classroom is children’s right to initiate their own activities. Children need to explore, imagine, try new things, and learn alone or with friends. Ultimately, what any of us learns most deeply is what we have explored “by ourselves.”

  • Learning Takes Time

    Too many adults who work with children try to hurry them. Pressuring children to hurry up inhibits rather than accelerates learning. Like almost everyone else, children learn best when they are relaxed and have open-ended time in which to create their own activities. They need time to refine and anchor new skills. The Outdoor Classroom encourages children to spend as much time as they want outdoors. The time children have is often directly related to the freedom they have.

  • Children Need Physical Activity

    Physical activity is necessary for children’s development and health. Open space offers children opportunities for big movement, vigorous social play, and explorations big and small. Their activities help them refine motor skills and teach them how the world works.

  • The Overprotected Child

    The changes we have executed in childhood in order to protect children from danger are resulting in rapidly escalating negative effects.

  • These are the five most critical issues facing children today:

    • Lack of exercise
    • Preoccupation with electronic media
    • Perception of outdoors as an unsafe place to play
    • Isolation from and fear of nature
    • Lack of engagement in and connection to the world, including nature
  • The Outdoor Classroom helps to restore the traditional benefits of childhood while addressing these challenges by:

    • Getting children outside and more active
    • Involving children in hands-on, loose-parts outdoor play
    • Creating opportunities to learn how to handle outdoor risks safely
    • Connecting children to nature in ways that encourage them to connect more deeply
    • Teaching children about cause and effect through outdoor and interpersonal activities
    • Providing children with a wide range of activities that support their holistic development
  • From Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms: Designing and Implementing Child-Centered Learning Environments by Eric M. Nelson. © 2012 by Eric M. Nelson.