Nature has a very wide definition. It can refer to green spaces such as parks and woodland as well as blue spaces like rivers, beaches or canals. It also includes trees on an urban street, private gardens, and even indoor plants or window boxes. Being active in nature and the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves enhances our mood, health and wellbeing (1). We all know from times of the pandemic lockdown, the huge difference getting outdoors made to our sense of wellbeing.
That feeling of connection with the environment and immersion in nature gave us a unique chance to relax and feel refreshed. For children, just five minutes of exercise undertaken in an urban green space such as a park or a nature trail may be sufficient enough to boost their physical and mental well-being; enabling them to re-adjust their behaviours and gain a broader perspective on their life. Indeed, in natural settings youngsters with attention deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD) display fewer symptoms and are better able to focus on a particular task (2).
Therefore, enhancement of mood and health are not the only benefits associated with nature. Nature exposure and the freedom to play is also shown to improve children’s learning, particularly on tasks requiring attention, working memory and collaborations with others. But how does this work?
Largely, it is the authenticity of nature and the uncertainty of adventurous experiences which provides the bedrock for real-life learning which is both memorable and meaningful. Research suggests that learning in predictable, uni-sensory settings, like some classrooms, is less impactful than changeable, multi-sensory environments (2). Here, learners are able to connect first-hand with their surroundings, igniting their creative thinking, care for others and problem-solving capabilities.
Learning in and through nature provides realistic consequences for success and failure. For example, children failing to follow a map correctly or not wearing the correct clothing may incur longer distances to travel and lead to becoming wet and cold. Conversely, giving youngsters freedom over decisions and actions allows successful outcomes to be attributed to themselves and builds their confidence.
Being immersed in natural settings give children a dose of reality and respect for the environment – seeing the situation clearly and conferring with others when dealing with the significance of their choices. Allowing learners’ to own their responses to unfolding circumstances, helps them to see the bigger picture, take stock of facts, and acknowledge others’ perspectives in becoming prepared for whatever challenges come along. Given this understanding, it seems feasible we need to promote learning that is responsive to enquiring minds and which uses simulating experiences to trigger emotions, such as laughter, incredulity and even mild apprehension, to build learning that can be recalled and reflected upon later.
Like any educational practice, learning in nature requires practice to help deliver desired outcomes. However, research shows, if appropriately facilitated, nature based learning generates realistic, meaningful educational outcomes. At a point in time where children have faced unprecedented upheaval and threats to their well-being it has never been more important to create daily opportunities for them to build their capacity to learn through a variety of means.
1. Nature and Health, Physical Activity in Nature, Edited by Eric Brymer, Mike
Rogerson and Jo Barton, Taylor and Francis, 2021
2. Allan, J. F., McKenna, J., & Hind, K. (2014) Brain Resilience: Shining a Light into
the Black Box of Adventure Processes, Australian Journal of Outdoor Education,
16 (1), 3-14
Social health is extremely important for youngsters. The Children’s Society’s Good Children Report 2022 cite children’s lack of social interaction during the pandemic as being highly significant in contributing to a current harmful downward trend in their mental health and well-being.
Time flies! It’s really unbelievable that my son finished the 6 weeks Summer Camp at Malvern! Thanks for letting him join this Summer camp! It’s so much fun everyday! And most importantly, he made a good friend here! Hope we can join in the future camps! And thanks you to your team!