What comes to mind when you think of outdoor learning for children? Perhaps you think of loud outdoor voices, laughs, and discoveries under the sun. While outdoor learning is certainly a fun adventure for children, more importantly, it’s a valuable educational experience as well.
In today’s blog, we are exploring why outdoor learning is essential for children, and why STEMful makes it an integral part of our program offerings.
Outdoor Learning Inspires Creativity and Curiosity
It’s a sad reality that children today are less creative and imaginative than generations before them. Perhaps it’s due to the strong emphasis the U.S. education system places on standardized testing, and that it limits children from exploring various creative approaches to finding answers to life’s questions.
Others suggest children’s creativity is hampered by screens and digital distractions. Now more than ever, creativity is crucial for children’s development, and outdoor learning provides the perfect environment for it.
Natural outdoor classrooms provide the ideal environment for children to explore their creativity and imaginations. In a study focusing on preschool-aged children (3 to 5 year old), four elements were found to be key to supporting children’s creative imaginations in outdoor learning:
- Predictable spaces with adequate room
- Extended periods of time
- Natural materials for open-ended play
- Caring adults who will support creative play
At STEMful, we are proud to offer learning opportunities that include those important factors. Our Curiosity Club and Curiosity Explorers programs give children the opportunity to explore and observe outside while learning exciting STEM concepts.
STEMful is led by caring staff who, using Social Emotional Learning practices, focus on supportive instruction as well as guiding children through valuable mental and emotional experiences. Held at a nearby park, the programs give 5 to 10 year old students a mix of structured activities and open-ended play that encourage them to flex their creative muscles and enjoy being outside.
Spending Time in Green Space is Good for Children
For children, getting out of the classroom and taking their education outside is a change from their classroom experiences, which can be exciting! Outdoor learning and play isn’t just a fun novelty for children. Spending time outside can actually positively impact the way they learn and think. Specifically, the amount of time children spend in green spaces positively affects their emotional and cognitive function.
Multiple studies have uncovered links between the amount of vegetation children grow up around and their risk for various disorders and issues. The more greenery children spend time around the less likely they are to encounter:
- Neurotic and stress-related disorders
- Mood disorders
- Issues with substance abuse
Other research has found that children who spend more time in nature have a better spatial working memory, which means they can remember visual information better and use it to solve problems.
Just seeing greenery can positively influence children’s learning experiences. In one experiment where students were seated in classrooms with varying outside views, those who could see green environments demonstrated better attention, faster recovery from stressful situations, and working memory abilities.
Knowing that nature provides positive learning experiences for students is a big part of why we’ve prioritized incorporating outdoor programs into our afterschool and summer camp offerings at STEMful. We understand the value of outdoor learning for students of all ages and want STEMful students to enjoy project-based STEM learning outside!
Sunlight Helps Children Learn and Grow
There are many reasons safe sun exposure is good for children and adults alike. Mentally and physically, adequate time spent in the sun is essential for children. And when it comes to outdoor learning, sunshine can play an important role in creating beneficial educational experiences.
There is also a correlation between sunshine and our bodies’ production of serotonin, a chemical that boosts our moods and helps us get quality sleep. When children can approach learning (even through play!) well-rested and with a happy disposition, it may produce more positive learning experiences.
Healthy sun exposure (for a monitored period and with proper sun protection) helps our bodies synthesize the vitamin D our skin produces and experience its benefits. Getting enough sunlight and maintaining adequate vitamin D levels is a factor in bone health, cardiovascular health, muscle function, and especially significant to education: mental planning skills.
STEMful’s indoor/outdoor Curiosity Club and outdoor Curiosity Explorer afterschool programs give children two to three hours of outdoor learning in a structured and engaging environment. While they participate in hands-on STEM learning activities, they’re also spending time in a naturally lit setting beneficial to their development.
Spending Time Outdoors Is Ideal During the Pandemic
While many adults and children over 12 years old are now getting vaccinated against COVID-19, we may not see a vaccine available for young children (2 to 11 years old) until fall 2021 and early 2022. As parents navigate safe activities and outings with their children this summer, choosing outdoor activities continues to be the safest option for vaccinated and unvaccinated children and adults alike.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is primarily spread between people who are in close contact (within six feet) through the exchange of respiratory droplets released into the air from talking, cough, sneezing, etc. Fresh, moving outdoor air scatters these respiratory droplets, reducing the risk of breathing in droplets from potentially infected individuals.
Until vaccines are available for children, encouraging safe practices in outdoor settings will continue to be ideal to keep them healthy and to avoid infection. Wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and enforcing good hygiene practices such as washing hands is key to letting children safely have fun and learn outside.
Give Your Children Memorable Outdoor Learning Experiences with STEMful
Outdoor learning is an impactful way for children to experience educational activities. Plus, they have fun doing it! Sign your children up for our Curiosity Club or Curiosity Explorer afterschool programs this fall to give them memorable outdoor learning experiences they’ll love and that are great for their growing minds and bodies.