Urban expansion, technology and the recent global pandemic situation have been determining elements that have contributed to making our culture increasingly interior. It is evidence that we spend less time outdoors. Researchers and writers are increasingly extolling the benefits that the natural world has for our physical health, our mental well-being, and our intellectual development. Outdoor advocate Richard Louv uses the term “nature deficit disorder” to warn of the negative effects of people who are not connected to the outdoors. On the other hand, as evidence of the benefits of outdoor learning grows, educators are recognizing the need for more activities that allow students to actively explore the natural world.
Nature offers a rich variety of information to spark students’ motivation to explore and discover. The active discovery of students is essential to develop the ability to observe, evaluate and use the information available around them. Outdoor experiences also engage students physically, increasing their level of engagement with the information they are taking in.
The Unique Benefits of Outdoor Learning
With their sensory stimuli, outdoor classrooms offer students a unique opportunity for cognitive and physical development. The connection with the outdoors preserves the physical and mental well-being that is the springboard to make academic progress. Outdoor learning has its own set of six benefits that cannot be had indoors:
- Physical interactions in nature fuel cognitive engagement
In outdoor classrooms, students constantly interact with their environment. Physical activity keeps students alert so they can move and take in information from their environment. Physical activity in young children is related to the development of perceptual and mental abilities, including language and memory development. School-age children show better academic results when there is more physical activity. In a recent review of 50 studies, the Center for Disease Control found “a total of 251 associations between physical activity and academic performance, representing measures of academic performance, academic behavior, and cognitive skills and attitudes.” Constantly perceiving and acting creates connections in the brain that prepare students to face new and complex challenges.
- Variety in nature encourages agile thinking
The outdoors is never the same twice, even in the most planned spaces. A small animal along the way, a bird perched on a branch or the changing texture of the earth depending on the weather of the day constantly offer students something new to find. The entire environment provides new tools and means to spark the imagination and ignite creativity. This variety fosters keen and adaptable senses, opening up possibilities for more agile thinking.
- The enormity of nature develops perception
The greatness of nature facilitates cognitive development. In an open, natural environment, the eyes must acclimate to objects near and far, the ears must localize sounds from all distances and directions, and the tactile receptors must indicate appropriate places to walk, stand, and reach. Neuroscience tells us that with this sensory awareness, electrical patterns are fired through the many brain regions responsible for intellectual growth.
- Nature brings health benefits
Immersion in nature promotes greater physical well-being and better brain function. Breathing better is one of the most immediate and fundamental benefits. Vegetation increases cellular oxygenation, raising oxygen levels for developing minds. Sunlight provides another critical health benefit, as it stimulates skin cells to create vitamin D, which allows the immune system to function properly. Vitamin D is also linked to a number of other benefits, including bone health, cardiovascular health, and insulin regulation.
- Nature promotes psychological well-being
Mental health and nature also go hand in hand. When we immerse ourselves in a natural environment, there is an increase in the natural production of serotonin, the chemical that elevates mood and prevents depression. Low levels of this chemical are linked to seasonal affective disorder, which occurs in some people when the amount of daylight decreases.
- Direct observations in nature connect students to the real world
To inhabit a natural environment is to become a first-hand witness of natural processes. Direct observation is the first step in becoming a “natural scientist”; students can observe, wonder and manipulate aspects of their experience to see what happens. Nurturing a passion for natural curiosity leads to curious observations, unfiltered by descriptions in textbooks or on the Internet.
For those educational centers that have close access to a natural environment, the Z-Tool chair is the perfect ally of ergonomics and comfort for working in a group or observing individually, taking notes or drawing, in nature