by Charlotte Thistle
Outdoor education has been around for a long time. It certainly rose in popularity in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but outdoor learning has many benefits beyond minimizing the spread of infectious diseases. According to this article in the Harvard Graduate School of Education News, outdoor learning benefits student mental health and academic performance, and students are often calmer and better able to focus when learning in nature. Little Otter Health (an award-winning online mental health clinic for kids) has compiled a list of peer-reviewed studies showing that outdoor learning has a host of benefits including better physical and mental health for students, improved student confidence, better learning outcomes, better social-emotional and collaborative skills, and increased student engagement.
As a mom, I have observed firsthand the difference in my own daughter (especially as a young child) after an hour exploring nature vs. an hour in front of a screen. After screen time, she was often cranky and agitated, with a low tolerance for anything that didn’t go her way. After time in nature, she was happy, vibrant and resilient.
As a music teacher – especially after seeing what a radical difference outdoor time produced in my own child – it was a natural choice for me to start taking my music students outside to the garden whenever feasible. After all, music and dance are among the most ancient of human activities. For hundreds of thousands of years, people around the world have joined together to sing and dance around campfires or in village squares. It’s really joyful to see children singing and dancing together outdoors!
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, I went a step further and installed a covered fresh-air classroom with a garden view. I’ve been teaching toddler classes out here year-round (it has a heater) as well as ukulele classes for older kids in Spring, Summer and Fall. In December we sang Christmas Carols and drank hot cocoa!
Music and dance may lend themselves better to outdoor learning than some activities, but there are ways to make even subjects like spelling and math more outdoorsy. For instance, Waldorf offers an Active Arithmetic curriculum, and this blog shows how spelling can be taken outdoors, especially in warm weather. I myself taught a small pod of 7-10 year-olds outdoors for two years during the pandemic and led some of the math and spelling ideas listed above, as well as outdoor reading, mad libs, storytelling, and more traditional outdoor activities such as cycling and jump rope. The kids even collaborated to design a logo which we put on t-shirts. I still proudly drink my morning tea out of my “Outdoor School” mug.
Whatever your situation, I hope you’re able to find a way to do some of your learning outdoors! I myself continue to offer outdoor Music for Tots and other outdoor music classes in Seattle, Washington. You can find more information about my class offerings on my website at www.misscharlottemusic.com.