Outdoor learning is an excellent way for children to take a step away from their screens and continue their learning outside. It’s an opportunity for a child to engage in activities that also have positive mental health benefits.

During the spring and summer months, in particular, there are lots of changes happening outside and you don’t have to go far to explore nature.

Children learning outdoors

What is Outdoor Learning?

Outdoor learning can be described as experimental learning in an outdoor setting. The learning aspect could be any area of the school curriculum, although it doesn’t have to be surrounding a geography or physical education lesson but can complement any subject.

There has been plenty of research that has shown time spent outdoors improves a child’s personal development, with school grades along with social skills improving. It is important to positively influence the development of the next generation’s well being and environmental awareness. As future policymakers, it helps to develop their environmental awareness, as well as the necessary skills to prevent further environmental damage.

The value of outdoor play and outdoor learning, getting out and about, and connecting to nature, is huge. Whether the learning is curriculum-based or just fun activities to engage a child, learning outside makes for happier and healthier minds.

According to the Open University’s OPENspace Research Centre, there is considerable evidence suggesting that time spent outdoors, in nature, increases life expectancy, improves wellbeing, reduces symptoms of depression and increases a child’s ability to function in school. Teachers reported improved concentration, better ability to focus and learn and increased productivity when children are more active and spend more time outside during the day.

Children think better on their feet than on their seat.

Mark BendenAssociate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health and Director of the Ergonomics Centre at Texas A&M University

Activities for Outdoor Learning

There are plenty of great ways to explore, investigate and learn along with your child about the natural world. Whether you’re investigating environmental issues, looking for shapes and colours or mapping the area, the outdoor environment offers endless inspiration for all educational levels.

1. Create a Sound Map

Objective: to focus on a different sense by listening to and mapping out the sounds around you.

You’ll need:

  • A pen or pencil
  • Paper

Task: Find a place outdoors (e.g. garden/doorstep) or a safe open window. Mark a cross in the centre of the paper to show where you are. Listening very carefully, take in all of the sounds you can hear around you. Once you hear a new sound, draw them on paper to demonstrate what they are and where the sound is coming from.

Discussion: Once your map is complete, share with your parent/guardian what sounds you heard. Think about your favourite sound, unfamiliar sounds and what they might be?

2. Map Your Local Area

Objective: To create a map of your local area to discover how well you know the place you live.

You’ll need:

  • Paper
  • Pens and pencils, including colours

Task: Using only your memory, draw a map of your local area with markings on the places and features.

Think about your local shop, school, church or park. What green spaces can you find? You can use colour to represent these natural features like fields, hills or lakes differently to constructed ones like roads and bridges.

Child mapping his local area

Extra task (older years): If you have a compass, you could try adding the bearings to the map. You can even design different symbols to represent different buildings – don’t forget to draw a key in the corner of your map to explain everything. Write a short account of your local area, consider how you would describe your local area for a travel magazine.

Discussion: Talk with a parent/guardian about the places you have included in your map. Ask if anything is missing? Think about your favourite places to visit, what makes them special?

Engage children in a scavenger hunt in the garden

3. Scavenger Hunt

Objective: To discover items in your garden or on a local walk.

You’ll need:

  • A tub or old washing up bowl (to carry everything in)

Task: In your garden or a safe outdoor space collect as many of the following in your tub/bowl as you can:

  • Something wet
  • Something old
  • Something heavy
  • Something shiny
  • Something new
  • Something that smells nice
  • Something colourful

What can you make? Gather all of the scavenged items to create a sculpture or picture. Can you invent a new species of creature? Can you replicate a beautiful landscape you have seen?

4. Weather

Objective: Create your own weather diary and make a note on the changing weather that is happening this Spring.

You’ll need:

  • Notepad
  • Pencil and pens
  • Thermometer
  • 2ltr plastic bottles
  • Scissors
  • Compass (you should be able to use a phone)

Task: Decide on a location that you are going to record the weather each day like your garden, balcony or front door step. Make sure you can get to the same place every day and at the same time.

Record the following each day to create a weather diary:

  • What is the temperature? What are you and your family wearing? Are you wearing heavy clothing? Use your thermometer to find out what the temperature is outside.
  • How strong is the wind? Look at any trees or bushes you can see? Is your hair blowing in the wind? Look at the Met Office to see what the number is.
  • What direction is the wind? Pick up a piece of grass or tissue paper, throw it in the air and notice what way it goes. Using your compass work out which direction the wind is coming from.
  • How much rain has fallen? Using a plastic 2ltr bottle, carefully cut the top off about 1/4 of the way down from the top, invert the top into the bottom of the plastic bottle to make a funnel and add a little water to weigh it down. Mark one centimetre intervals above the water line and you have made a rain gauge to record from.
  • How many clouds are there in the sky? Look up at the sky and divide your view into eight. How many of the eight pieces have clouds in? Give it a score out of eight.
  • What colour are the clouds? Are they fluffy white clouds or grey clouds? Think about what it might mean the sky is doing by the colour of the clouds.