Outdoor play has been proven to be an essential component of learning, and the events of 2020 changed the landscape of how educators view the importance of letting pupils explore the world. There was a lot of uncertainty throughout the past year, with educators needing to quickly alter teaching methods every week. The CDC advised going outdoors with caution, and some of the models of education that flourished included homeschooling, virtual education, micro-schools, and forest schools. 

Outdoor learning has already long been embraced by Maria Montessori’s teachings and the Waldorf-Steiner approach to education. Both methodologies believe teachers should be present as facilitators and guides, but the learning is child-led, enjoyable, purposeful, and play-based. Rudolf Steiner believed in developing students’ life skills using a holistic manner, using nature and the world around us. Montessori schools believe in nature as an extension of the classroom in order to understand and appreciate the Earth’s harmony, order, and beauty. Forest schools, which originated in Denmark, follow a similar stance.

A forest school is a nature-based community that allows for outdoor education. Students visit natural spaces to learn hard and soft skills such as problem-solving and collaboration. The programs emphasize time spent exploring with guided, expert, enthusiastic professionals. Students learn valuable life lessons from nature and how to respect the Earth. Some of the lessons include going for a nature walk and discovering individually, setting up a scavenger hunt with clues and facts about the topic at hand, crafting without worrying about making a mess, setting up an obstacle course, identify sounds, reading time outdoors.

When people are outside, the urge to move freely is instantaneous. Energy is expended productively, not just physically but also from the stimulation of sights and sounds. This cumulative experience leads to a fulfilling, exhausting, productive learning environment. In an era with more and more reasons to stay indoors and use electronics, it is more important than ever to embrace the wonders of exercise, spatial awareness, and cause and effect in the real world.

In addition to physical benefits, being outdoors helps on a cognitive level. Curiosity and senses are used throughout the learning process, and outside they are put to work in a big way. There is no lack of things to feel or hear or see or smell. Socially, students are more imaginative and creative when a desk or classroom unbinds them. They are more likely to follow the rules and make wiser, empathetic decisions regarding themselves and their fellow peers.