Can learning outdoors improve a child’s connection to his environment? Outdoor classes take children out of the classroom and into nature – are they helpful, or just another kind of preschool?
Outdoor Classes? How Does That Work?
Fresh Air Learning, a non-profit organization founded by Decoded Science’s own Tricia Edgar, has enrolled children meet at a picnic shelter, where they begin with circle time. The program meets twice a week and has both a morning and afternoon session. The class then heads off to the farm or the forest, rain or shine. There is a mix of free play learning and facilitator-initiated activities. Crafts, stories, snack and songs are incorporated into the program as well, all based on seasonal and natural materials.
Outdoor Play-Based Learning
Tricia Edgar, President of Fresh Air Learning, told Decoded Science that “outside, there are not limited numbers of specific toys.” She explains that nature contains many loose parts, such as sticks, stones, mud, etc. Tricia explains the benefits, “having free play with loose parts is a way to encourage cooperation, rather than competition.” She cites Louise Chawla, an Environmental Psychologist at the University of Colorado, Denver, who studies the ways in which children play and learn outdoors, as a basis for a lot of their program.
Richard Louv, in his book, Last Child in the Woods, discusses how important outdoor play is for children with special needs. Being out in nature allows these children the ability to focus, and Ms. Edgar has found in her own experience with Forest School that this is true. Indeed, she told Decoded Science that “teachers will remark that the children that they thought would be challenging outdoors are actually the ones who thrive there.”
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