"Outdoor education goes far beyond teaching a fixed curriculum with specific criteria and standards. In their time outdoors, children have the opportunity to develop a sense of self and community by connecting to culture, nature and language."
What is an outdoor school, and what are the benefits?
They follow the principles of discovery-based and experiential learning, where students learn by interacting with nature.
Outdoor schools and programs vary greatly according to the time spent outdoors, the alignment of the outdoors component, and how structured the outdoors component is. For example, the Nipugtugewei Kindergarten is embedded into the Kindergarten program rather than serving a complementary function, and it has a semi-structured outdoors component which is aligned with provincial curriculum objectives.
Outdoor schools (also called nature-based or forest schools) are rapidly growing in popularity in North America from their beginnings in Scandinavia in the 1980s. Proponents of these schools point to physical benefits like improved attention and motivation, better self-discipline, and increased respect for nature. There are also clear pedagogical benefits, such as improved collaborative and problem-solving skills (Children and Nature Network, 2012).
Would you rather learn to count by reciting numbers in a classroom, or by counting your steps from one tree to another?
Would you rather learn about circumference by measuring a circle on a page or measuring the distance around a tree?
Most importantly, nature-based learning is what Indigenous peoples have always practiced. We have observed that the outdoors component of our classes allows us to more effectively incorporate cultural, spiritual, and traditional aspects of our Mi'gmaq ways, such as traditional stories and teachings of the elders, arts and crafts, traditional dancing, and ceremonies. By returning to the land, we can re-establish a connection between ourselves and the land and express our cultural heritage.
Are they learning anything outside?
It is surprising the number of curriculum goals that can be accomplished outdoors. In addition to curriculum and cultural content, students learn valuable cross-curricular skills like problem-solving and cooperation. This is in addition to other benefits to students' physical and psychological health, and increased respect for nature.
Will they be behind when they go into regular schooling afterwards?
Research has not shown any academic disparity between classroom-based students and those who have had the outdoors component. In our personal experience, subsequent teachers often report that as a class group, they are often stronger.
Doesn't this only work well for young children?
Even though it is more associated with young children, there is no real age limit. Outdoor education can have benefits for students of any age. The program is just adapted, with older students doing less free exploration and more structured tasks.
Don't they go crazy when you let them loose outside?
In fact, teachers often remark that problematic behaviours in the classroom actually improve when students go outside, and when they are allowed to move as they learn.
What if we don't have the time in our schedule to build this in?
Even if you can only spare one hour a day for an outdoor component, it can transform the educational experience.