WHY OUTDOOR CLASSROOMS ARE IMPORTANT

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    Research consistently shows that children have a strong preference to be outdoors in nature. Nature sustains us and is an incredible library of knowledge. Children are natural explorers and have an intense desire for knowledge about their surroundings. They need opportunities to explore the natural world for if there are not early experiences with nature, a love and respect for nature doesn’t develop. It is important that we guide children to discover themselves and the world around them.
   In the outdoor classroom children feel a sense of belonging in nature, become more observant, and develop a reverence for life. The outdoors is a developmentally appropriate classroom for children.
    Society puts its best foot forward in early childhood education. Fifty percent of our intellectual capability is achieved before the age of four. Psychological patterns are set before the age of seven and the child’s self image is formed during this time, which sets his personality pattern. I can’t think of any better place to stimulate their senses and develop perceptual motor skills than the great outdoors!
  Children are not born with finely tuned perceptual motor skills. They are a result of being challenged as a child. Research has shown us the intellectualizing capability of the senses. The development of the senses precedes that of superior intellectual activity and the power of observation is procured through the development of the senses.                  
    Children are sensorial explorers. They gain a better understanding of the world around them when they are involved in activities that bring them in direct contact with nature. Nature captivates the child’s imagination, activates the senses and gives them a sense of belonging in nature and they develop the ability to express their experiences.
    Knowledge advances rapidly when the line between work and play fades. Remember . . . children are always unconsciously taking in impressions that form their minds.                  
    Conduct some observation excursions. Walk with a purpose. Maybe it will be to discover trees, the kinds of leaves or fruit they bear, the shade they give, or the shelter they give to birds and animals.                   
    You can teach children about trees in the classroom, but they must see and experience trees to make trees real to them. Get outside with children, get some exercise, build a garden and explore together. Everyone will benefit! Rather than showing them a tomato, let them grow one!
    In designing children's outdoor environments the goal is to use the landscape and nature as much as possible. It is desirable to integrate the outdoor and indoor classroom with one sense of place and identity so the transition is seamless.
    A design that allows children to go back and forth encourages children to experiment with autonomy from adults, both physically and symbolically. The outdoor space becomes part of the classroom, rather than a retreat from it. The outdoor classroom complements and enhances teaching and offers many physical, mental, and social benefits. Many teachers are choosing to run indoor/outdoor programs and free snack times to enable and enhance the long stretches of uninterrupted play times.
   Environmental education should start at any early age with hands-on experiences with nature. There is evidence that concern for the environment is based on affection for nature that only develops with autonomous, unmediated contact with nature. The way people feel in pleasing natural environments improves recall of information, creative problem solving, and creativity.
    Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and a sense of wonder. Wonder is important as it a motivator for life long learning.
    The natural world is essential to the emotional health of children. Just as children need positive adult contact and a sense of connection to the wider human community, they need positive contact with nature and the chance for solitude and the sense of wonder that nature offers.
    All the manufactured equipment and indoor instructional materials produced by the best educators in the world cannot substitute for the primary experience of hands-on engagement with nature. Manufactured equipment falls way short of the potential of outdoor areas to be rich play and learning environments for children and denies children their birthright to experience nature outdoors which includes vegetation, animals, insects, water and sand, not just the sun and air that manufactured playgrounds offer. The lives of children today are more structured and supervised, with few opportunities for free play. Their physical boundaries have shrunk. Parents are afraid for their children's safety
And when children do have free time, it's often spent inside in front of the television or computers. For some children, that's because their neighborhood, apartment complex or house has no outdoor play spaces. Children live what one play authority refers to as a childhood of imprisonment. Childcare facility playgrounds are often the only outdoor activities that many young children experience.   
    The structures and equipment in an outdoor classroom should be made of natural materials such as logs, stumps and boulders and the landscape is used in natural ways with berms and mounds. The simplest way to include natural play elements in the outdoor classroom is by adding natural parts like stones, logs, sand, trees and water. It should encourage self directed exploration and discovery.
    You can build a trench in the sand and dirt or a rock dam over a stream, but there's not much you can do to a jungle gym except climb, hang, or fall off. Natural elements provide for open-ended play that emphasizes unstructured creative exploration with diverse materials. The complexity and variety nature offers invites longer and more complex play. Because of their interactive properties, plants stimulate discovery, dramatic pretend play, and imagination. 

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Biophilia: The Love of Outdoors

Eco-psychology and evolutionary psychology suggest that humans are genetically programmed by evolution with an affinity for the natural outdoors. Evolutionary psychologists use the term biophilia7 to refer to this innate, hereditary emotional attraction of humans to nature and other living organisms.

Natural outdoor environments produce positive physiological and psychological responses in humans, including reduced stress and a general feeling of well-being. People, especially young children, who have not yet adapted to the man-made world prefer the natural landscape to built environments.

Biophobia: The Aversion to Nature

If the human attraction to nature is not given opportunities to flourish during the early years of life, the opposite, biophobia, an aversion to nature, may develop. Biophobia ranges from discomfort in natural places to active scorn for whatever is not man-made managed or air-conditioned. Biophobia is also manifest in the tendency to regard nature as nothing more than a disposable resource.

 

"Play is the highest form of research." Einstein
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