Spring is here and the Cherry Blossoms are blooming! With spring comes a plethora of natural changes in the environment and wonderful opportunities to engage in meaningful outdoor and environmental education and play-based learning. Visiting the Cherry Blossoms this weekend? Read on for reasons why outdoor education, learning-through-play, and environmental science are beneficial to your child. Plus, try out our Stages of Bloom Scavenger Hunt!
Going outside to learn is beneficial to child development. In his 2005 book, Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection, Dr. Stephen R. Kellert of Yale University writes: “Play in nature, particularly during the critical period of middle childhood, appears to be an especially important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development.” Children love going outside! In exit interviews for our programs, iSchool for the Future students consistently rate their outdoor experiences as positive, fun, and memorable. Every single one of our programs – including Summer Camps – have time outside.
The benefits of outdoor education exist regardless of topic. Going outside is associated with play and offers real-world experiences. Play engages the whole mind and body in something fun, while making learning effortless and lasting. Research and years of observation by educators has shown that play is good for intellectual, physical, and emotional growth. This 2012 Edutopia article entitled Make More Time for Play states: “Playful, adventuresome experiences that engage both mind and body are how we learn best.” iSchool incorporates play-based learning and outdoor education into all of our Summer Camps.
The outdoors are a natural laboratory for biological, chemical, and environmental science and easily connect disciplines. Environmental education is directly linked to higher test scores and student engagement and results in happier, healthier children, schools, and communities. Outdoor education also leads to a problem- and project-based approach to learning. Our experience has shown that when children learn about a problem in their environment – poor water quality, exposed and eroding soil, and habitat needs – children are self-motivated to expand their learning and solve those problems. Children in iSchool’s programs have had such diverse outdoor experiences as testing water quality and proposing fountains, planting ground cover, and building a bird house village. These are experiences that our students remember and cherish, because of their real-world and lasting impact, and because they are relevant to their own lives.
We have found that being outside is a freeing experience that helps children shake up their thinking, expand their horizons, and have more out-of-the-box experiences. Students in our programs and summer camps report their outdoor learning experiences as important to their desire to learn. They also report that the opportunity to explore their environment as real-world scientists helps them see their surroundings in a new light. One repeat student, who had attended school at the location of our iSchool camp for seven years, found that our outdoor learning opportunities had expanded his understanding of his school grounds and its diversity. He saw his school in a new light!
Here are six tried and true (and easy!) outdoor activities:
1. Visiting the Cherry Blossoms? Hold a Stages of Bloom Scavenger Hunt! Look for each of the stages of blossoming: Green buds, Florets, Peduncle Elongation, Puffy White Stage, Full Bloom. Or, hunt for seeds and buds.
2. Biodiversity Race – Give children time to race around the yard and find as many species (different kinds) of plants and animals as they can.
3. Are you near a pond or creek? Use recycling, kitchen, and office supplies to build a boat that sinks. Then, fix it so that it floats!
4. Do a nature walk with a technology twist. Using a smartphone, download apps that help identify birds (e.g. Bird Songs) or plants (e.g. Leafsnap) and use them to help identify any unknown species.
5. Observe a plot of ground over time. Now is a great time to set up a small plot in a garden, marked with string or sticks, and watch how it changes as spring and summer progress.
6. Watch plants photosynthesize. Close a plastic bag over a few leaves (still attached to a branch) in a sunny spot and observe over a few hours. As plants photosynthesize they release water vapor, which will condense on the inside of the bag.