I was born and raised in the countryside. I lived and grew up on the farm, constantly in touch with nature. I remember that, as a child, I used to love to go to the mountains to have leaf races in the river or to go on an insect hunt. My father and my grandmother would teach me about plants, mushrooms or where I should not put my hand if I did not want to be bitten by a snake.
But opportunities for children to access the natural environment are diminishing. Children are spending less time outdoors due to concerns over safety, traffic, crime and other parental worries. Modern environments have reduced the amount of open green spaces too, while technology has increased children’s sedentary time. It is for these reasons and more that many experts think schools should promote outdoor education, to give children access to natural environments. Research shows that healthier and happier children do better at school, and that education is an important determinant of future health. But education is not just about lessons within the four walls of a classroom. The outdoors also provide a wide range of educational benefits, a whole other classroom.
For instance, spending time in nature provides a great opportunity to work on problem solving skills in real situations. I remember the first time I got a cricket out of its hole. I spent so much time waiting and trying to think how I could get it out, until I realised that they eat grass. I tickled him with a bit of grass and within seconds, the cricket was out. I remember not being very confident in the beginning. I would just touch it with a stick and assess the risks. However, after finding out that it was harmless, I remember collaborating with my sister to build a house, asking my dad for facts about crickets and getting excited to go on a new adventure and discover nature.
Besides promoting problem solving and risk assessment skills, outdoor learning also helps to develop resilience and adaptability in occasionally adverse circumstances. When I was working in Finland, we would spend two hours a day outdoors. I remember going out in -20 degrees. Finnish people always say, “There is no bad weather, but inappropriate clothes”. So, after getting the appropriate gear, children would play in the snow, making igloos with ice blocks or excavating looking for grass. On very rainy days, we would get the appropriate gear and play in the rain; making mud pies or castles and jumping in the puddles. The conditions may not seem the best, but the children enjoyed every opportunity. They learnt about all the different seasons and they would always bring very interesting topics and experiences into the classroom. Outdoor education also develops a love, appreciation and respect for nature and all that is living. It helps us understand how we can look after our environment and provides positive health benefits, both physically and mentally, since it provides a calmer and quieter environment without walls.
For all these reasons, at ISC, I like to bring my class outdoors: for free play sessions, to paint, to build, to listen to a story, to resolve a question or problem raised in the classroom, to investigate the surroundings, to get materials from nature to carry out our projects, to calm down and be more effective in classroom tasks or to enjoy time together having a picnic.
The school management encourages and supports outdoor learning in all its forms, so my Year 1 children and I make the most of our opportunities outside in ISC’s many natural spaces.