The outdoor classroom

By Carolyn Bohm – Rātā teacher

Summer is here and as the days continue to lengthen and warm up, it’s a great time to think about active outdoor undertakings. Active time outdoors comes with a range of benefits for children (and adults) from increased physical health, to learning about the natural world, to gaining a sense of independence. Movement is critical to a child’s healthy growth and development. Spending time outdoors and moving helps children maintain healthy immune systems and decreases their chances of future problems with obesity and heart ailments. Further, physical activity increases children’s appetite at meal times due to the energy they burned off playing, walking, swimming or biking and helps them sleep better at night, tired from their physical adventures.

Taking children to the playground or a park is a great way to get them active as well as socializing with other children. When allowed to free play at the park, children learn to make new friends outside of a structured environment, how to navigate the dynamics of playing games in a group (which is much different than playing with just one other friend on a playdate), and how to successfully interact with people who have different temperaments, lifestyles and past experiences. Free play also allows children to develop leadership skills and a co-operative spirit that encourages bonding.

Time spent outdoors free playing, exploring, or engaging in science inquiries encourages a sense of independence in children as well. When at the park or playground with their peers, children can experience the opportunity to do things how they want and be in control of what happens. Outdoor play time fills kids with a sense of energy that encourages them to push themselves in exploration and discovery.

Experiences outdoors are perfect for giving children a better understanding of the world around them, whether an understanding of botany, zoology, geology, physics or astronomy. Nature’s constantly changing essence helps children hone observation skills around the cycles of life and terrain that leave the world around them simultaneously in constant flux, but also reassuringly familiar. Positive experiences with and appreciation for nature in childhood helps children develop a stronger sense of environmental awareness. Treks, planting trees, gardening, fruit picking, going to nature exhibitions, or visiting botanical gardens are all great ways of combining physical activity with time spent learning outdoors. If you are looking to do more structured outdoor science exploration there are plenty of books and websites that give outdoor science activities (and explanations for those activities) that use materials you either might have at home already, or could easily pick up from the store. Many of the science explorations I have done in the classroom have come from science books I picked up from the library, some of the my favourites being the “Science Lab for Kids” series.

In the Montessori classroom we strive to make learning a fun, engaging activity that encourages a love of exploration in children. Learning, therefore, is not a chore or something to need a break from, but an exciting endeavour for all times of the year.