Research — 15 July 2016

Outdoor learning has an overwhelmingly positive impact on children’s quality of life, according to a new report by professors of education at the University of Plymouth and Western Sydney University.

In an age dominated by busy family schedules, full academic curricula, and an increasingly fearful social climate, children are losing the freedom to play, explore, and interact with their environment, the authors report. They are being denied important opportunities that could enhance their future.

The report emphasizes a variety of benefits for children when they are able to learn in the natural environment, not only from an educational viewpoint but also in terms of their behavior, social skills, health and well-being, resilience, confidence, and sense of place.

But in order for these benefits to be fully realized, the authors assert that outdoor learning needs to be introduced more formally into global school curricula. In the report, they identify a framework showing how governments can build on existing and current research and introduce outdoor learning as an integral element of national education policies.

“At the moment, if outdoor learning is part of a school’s curriculum in England, it is largely because the teachers recognize the values of it,” said co-author and associate professor Sue Waite from the Plymouth Institute of Education at Plymouth University.

“With so much focus on academic attainment, there can be pressure on teachers to stay in the classroom which means children are missing out on so many experiences that will benefit them throughout their lives.”

“This report shows that although there is significant research which supports outdoor learning for academic as well as social and personal outcomes, it is only by having that recognized by policy makers that we are likely to achieve universal positive cultural change.”

In the last decade, there have been five significant reviews focused on children learning in natural environments in the U.K. and abroad. These come at a time when childhoods are dramatically changing, and children are being given limited opportunities to be outdoors in formal or informal learning settings.

In the new report, the authors propose a framework to generate five key outcomes for children: a healthy and happy body and mind; a sociable confident person; a self-directed creative learner; an effective contributor; an active global citizen.

As the evidence continues to mount on the benefits of learning in a natural environment, the researchers hope it is enough to persuade policy makers to take action.

“This report maps the evidence to encourage researchers and policy makers to meet at the interface of research and policy in order to shape a positive future for our children,” said co-author Karen Malone, Ph.D., from Western Sydney University’s Centre for Educational Research.

Source: University of Plymouth

This article first appeared on ‘Psych Central’ – July 2016.

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