Most teachers and parents are aware of the physical benefits from outdoor activities; but what about the emotional and social? With increasing pressures of exams and an already fully-packed curriculum it can be easy to push outdoor activities to the back of a long list of priorities. However, with an increasing body of evidence suggesting that outdoor learning and school activities can boost the welfare and performance of children at school, it’s time to reconsider the positive affect a school event or expedition can have on its pupils.
With the right planning, an effective trip or activity can achieve a wide-range of positive outcomes, from higher levels of health and well-being, increased attainment and productivity, decreased stress, and improved interpersonal and social skills.
Interacting with nature has been found to reduce stress in young people and has been recognised as a factor in boosting self-esteem and sense of identity and community. According to a recent report by Plymouth University, evidence reveals that lack of exposure to natural environments “denies children the opportunity to develop understandings and experiences that will have a long term impact on the quality of their lives, particularly in relation to their physical health and wellbeing and ‘character capabilities’ such as application, self-regulation, empathy, creativity, and innovation, and their capacity to be successful learners and active contributing members for a sustainable society.”
Outdoor activities (such as, rock climbing, canoeing, biking, coasteering etc.) can have an equally positive effect; Socially, children will be more adaptable, better at getting along with others, as well as more creative and physically healthier. Outdoor learning provides opportunities to make learning physical and fun; an activity such as orienteering can help develop a child’s maths and geography skills as well as provide opportunity to develop physically and emotionally.
A recent a US study has found outdoor activities and connecting with nature can benefit children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD), improving attention and behaviour from as little as a guided walk for twenty-minutes in a green area.
“environments can enhance attention not only in the general population but also in ADHD populations.”
Sensory walks in nature can have also have an important role to play in development, this is for all children, but for children who have specific difficulty, such as those with autism or sensory integration dysfunction disorder, sensory walks can help fine tune motor skills, language and have a calming effect.
With this growing wealth of evidence emphasising the importance of outdoor activities on children’s wellbeing, in contrast to what can appear to be increasing pressure on exams and timetable, the clear solution is for both to support the other, working together to benefit the future of our children.