Outdoor learning spaces
Human beings are made to learn. Therefore, learning takes place in all circumstances, and if we are talking about an educational centre, it transcends its walls and takes place both indoors and outdoors. An outdoor environment should be a place to run, play and learn. This “lesson” will focus on designing safe outdoor spaces that encourage learning, participation and active play.
Playing outdoors brings many benefits for children and youth. They can release energy, talk out loud, play vigorously, and engage in messy outdoor projects. In addition, children can explore the plants and animals of their local ecosystem.
Children who want to climb trees
Playing outdoors and having the opportunity to connect with nature can be especially beneficial for some children with special needs. A study of 7-12 year old children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) showed that children showed less severe ADHD symptoms after spending time in “green” environments, and the greener the outdoor environment, the richer the vegetation, the better the effect.
We also know that the quality of the outdoor environment is important. Children are more likely to enjoy and participate in environments that are flexible, where equipment is open-ended and can function in multiple ways (e.g. balls, sandboxes, self-built forts), and where active play is encouraged. In fact, the design of playgrounds can influence children’s creative thinking, their sense of collaboration and the development of their motor skills.
The educational programme and the location of the school influence the school’s external approach.
The outdoor environment varies from school to school. Some may have wide green spaces, wooded areas and gardens, while others may use mainly a paved area. Depending on your school-age programme, the outdoor environment may include a dedicated outdoor play space at your programme location, or you may use nearby outdoor spaces, such as a local park. Some programmes have permanent climbing and gross motor equipment, while others have equipment carts that are taken outdoors. It is important to know the strengths and limitations of the outdoor spaces available to consider design ideas and materials that make the best use of the centre’s outdoor resources.
The purpose of an outdoor environment is to encourage children to be active, to give them a break from being indoors and to support learning in a variety of settings. Like an indoor learning environment, the outdoor space should be safe and organised, and include planned activities and free time.
Safe outdoor spaces
It is advisable to assess the outdoor learning environment to ensure that the equipment is safe and free from hazards. Consideration should be given to fall zones, surfaces, access to shade and the condition of materials and equipment.
Checking these elements and correcting possible faults before allowing children and young people to play can prevent unforeseen events:
- Missing or broken parts
- Protruding nuts and bolts
- Rust and chipping or peeling paint
- Sharp edges, splinters and rough surfaces
- Unstable handles
- Visible cracks
- Large, unanchored and unstable play equipment (e.g., playhouses, climbers)
- Wear and tear
- Broken or frayed electrical wiring or cables
Design and materials
Making the most of the space you have is easy if you equip it efficiently. Not all outdoor spaces are ideal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t unleash your creativity.
To make the most of the good weather and the inspirational component of meeting and learning in a natural environment, we recommend having a great ally such as our Z-TOOL: a unique design that facilitates the correct posture when working with a laptop or notebook. Easy to transport and store, it is an indispensable tool in educational centres around the world.