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Early outdoor education: impacts on learning

What is the significance of outdoor learning on early childhood education. Does it make an impact on inquiry, understanding, learning, creativity, curiosity and knowledge building. Are current models of education giving children the skills to become caring and responsible citizens and is it relevant to today’s world and challenges. Are we set on a path to sustainable education?

David Orr, ecologist and scholar, suggests a fundamental shift and approach in teaching and learning as changes affected by the Anthropocene kick into action. Paulo Freire, educator and philosopher, worked with impoverished youth and became convinced that “traditional pedagogy was oppressive and dehumanizing” and advocated different educational models. In other words, traditional models of standardized education seemed to be failing on all counts of social, economic and environmental justice and in providing sustainable solutions for the future. The model of memorizing and regurgitating facts, the ‘banking’ style was just not enough for the solutions that were needed to build a resilient and self-sufficient society.

Tapping into the natural curiosity of children, leading them towards inquiry-based learning and the understanding of the interconnectedness of all living systems on earth, is the kind of fundamental shift that Orr suggested. Incorporating outdoor education as a way of enriched learning, complementing traditional classroom learning, introduces children to the wonder and awe that nature presents in its dynamic systems. By observation, through inquiry and integrated approaches of learning and environmental stewardship, children gain a better understanding of the natural world and they develop deep knowledge and skills that connects their curriculum and classroom learning, preparing them for current and future challenges.

The key benefits of outdoor learning are:

  • Naturalized spaces like parks, ravines and river systems provide a perfect setting for hands-on experience, participatory engagement, cultural expression and ‘instill in children an abiding sense of care and responsibility for the well-being of their communities and planet Earth’.

  • Working in outdoor spaces, on projects like nurturing a community garden, children will become more aware about current issues facing their community whether it's food-related or an environmental sustainability issue.

  • They will develop a keen sense of space and will be able to see the magnitude of their impact within a span of one growing season.

  • By growing organic fruits and vegetables, nature’s lab will teach children how to take constructive and collective action and transformation through individual empowerment

  • The children will further be able to expand on their curriculum learning by engaging in hands-on activities and nature-based, outdoor games covering a wide range of topics particularly science and environmental stewardship.

  • Using the Heads, Hands and Heart approach will enable children from being knowledge seekers to transformative leaders of tomorrow.

The current environmental and climate crises make it imperative for educators to make children enablers of change at their level, informed by their interest, values and knowledge they bring from home and environment around them. By becoming stewards of the land, the children will have a shared responsibility to take care of the earth, to do their part in keeping the planet healthy. They will not view nature merely as a resource to be extracted and used for their consumption but will learn about the intricate and delicate balance that links the world’s social, economic and natural systems together. According to Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, an economist and public policy analyst, we affect what we do today, our economy, our society and our future. The experiences that children gain at an early stage may influence their behavior in later life, paving the way for them to becoming environmentally conscious citizens.

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