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Using Nature as a Learning Lab for Children

Fall is a wonderful time of year to go outside and explore nature.  Going on a nature walk with children is an excellent way to inspire love and appreciation for the natural world.

Nature provides more stimulation than indoor play. It activates the senses – you can see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments. Taking a nature walk with children doesn’t have to include a specific activity. Just take a walk and let learning find you!

Allow children lots of unstructured time to explore and discover. What you can help your students understand is that the discoveries they made while outside turned them into scientists. Nature provides numerous opportunities for discoveries, being creative, and solving problems.

Fall provides ample opportunities that enhance the senses.  Encourage children to see the vivid colors of the changing leaves, listen to the wind blowing in the trees, the smell of a crackling fire, the taste of apple cider, and the touch of crunchy leaves. 

The case for going outside

Playing outside is vital in improving a child’s emotional, intellectual, physical, and social development.  By playing outdoors, children get a chance to interact with their peers.  They may play alone or connect with others and learn how to share and solve problems together.

While being in nature provides many experiences, what makes it so unique?  Why is it so important to get outside?

In a survey of preschools in Ohio, half the children in full-day childcare spent less than 23 minutes each day outdoors.  One in three children spent no time outdoors (Copeland et al 2016).

There is a measurable psychological and educational impact of time spent in nature for children.

Scientists have discovered that playing outside calms children who suffer from ADHD symptoms, anxiety and distraction.  Nature stimulates a peaceful state and usually enhances nurturing behavior in kids. 

The benefits of being outside

There are a few things we do know about why nature is good for children.

It expands their minds. Nature creates a unique sense of wonder for kids that no other environment can provide.

It gets kids moving. Nature is full of fresh air, which is invigorating, and provides countless opportunities for children to engage in physical activities.  Outdoor play also allows a child to be more physically active than indoor play, potentially burning more calories and enhancing a child’s overall fitness.

It raises awareness. Learning to associate nature with positive emotions and meaningful experiences affects the way children respond to outdoor learning.

We need to realize that there is something special about being in nature.

In order to raise adults who are passionate about protecting the natural environment and preserving our planet, they must first develop a passion for it. It’s important to help children realize that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves and that there is a collective benefit of being engaged in nature.

There are countless resources available to help childcare professionals plan and development outdoor learning labs for children.

Child Care Exchange, a website devoted to early childhood professionals, offers Exchange Press, a resource that provides a magazine, books, and training resources.

These outdoor classroom resources include:

The Classroom Manager and Family Journal features of ChildWatch® can help you manage classroom activities and share experiences of your outdoor adventures.  Click here to learn more.