Outdoor education offers enormous benefits, but needs whole school buy-in

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"Children exposed to outdoor learning have improved performance, obtain higher scores in standardised tests, and have a better attitude towards learning." Photo: Getty Images
"Children exposed to outdoor learning have improved performance, obtain higher scores in standardised tests, and have a better attitude towards learning." Photo: Getty Images

Outdoor education refers to the experiential learning in, for or about the outdoors, according to Quentin du Toit, Head of Outdoor at Somerset College's preparatory school.

The method includes a range of organised activities delivered in various ways, mostly outdoors, he says, and draws and develops a more excellent range of intelligence in children.

Read: Global report shows children with disabilities face multiple challenges in accessing basic rights

It's not just him backing this way of learning, as many researchers attribute improvements in classroom performance to the hands-on experience of learning outdoors. Studies show that children exposed to outdoor learning have improved performance, obtain higher scores in standardised tests, and have a better attitude towards learning.

They also have improved in-school behaviour, better attendance records and enhanced academic achievements.

Outdoor education is not a new concept, and most schools understand its importance. Methods and resources may vary from school to school, but range from germinating seeds to planting a vegetable garden and day outings like school camping.

Alwyn Brink, the head of Outdoor Education at Somerset College's high school, echoes du Toit's findings, agreeing that outdoor education can support emotional, behaviour and intellectual development, he says.

Brink says that studies also show that students who learn outdoors develop a sense of self, independence, confidence, creativity, decision-making and problem-solving skills, empathy towards others, motor skills, self-discipline, and initiative. 

However, he says that while several schools in South Africa offer an extensive outdoor education focus, some schools struggle to implement an effective programme. He explains that the tricky part about outdoor learning is that it needs the whole school buy-in the support of parents, teachers, and the board members.

He says that what is common in most schools is that the school would offer outdoor education once and miss out on the real impact this can have on the students.

Does your school offer outdoor learning? Let us know...

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