outdoor learning evironment

In 2016, the Morris Area Community Education's ECFE/SR program planned and created an outdoor learning environment to enhance and expand the available learning space for the children and families. Nature provides a great opportunity for children to learn through exploration and experimentation. OLE is a well planned outdoor space that supports all areas of child development; social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development.

Research on outdoor classrooms also includes a child's spiritual development. Spiritual development is defined as beauty appreciation, sensory understanding, and the ability to nurture and care for living things. The use of OLE will assure children's overall development meeting the following goals of Morris Area Schools:

    1. Emotional & Social Development: Help children develop friendships, establish executive functions like impulse control, communication skills, and empathy.
    2. A Vibrant, Nature Rich Experience: One full of play, adventure and wonder.
    3. Kindergarten Readiness: Prepare children to thrive academically in all disciplines.

The benefits of student's spending time in nature are documented in contemporary scientific research. Today, we find that youth are less connected with nature that ever before, and with significant consequences to their understanding of the world and their intellectual and developmental well-being.

Positive, appropriate experiences with nature bring significant benefits to children. In addition, outdoor experiences and interaction with nature help children understand the structure, interconnections and beauty of the world. Research tells us that these experiences have multiple positive effects on the physical and psychological well-being of children, as well as on development of their cognitive skills. These interactions are ones that cannot be reproduced indoors, on a computer, or on video; children need to experience them first hand to receive the benefits.

Implementing an outdoor classroom into our program has created that natural space for children to regularly explore the outdoors in a way that is safe and educational, building respect and love for the environment.

OLE includes the following features:

  • Areas for playing, climbing, and building
  • Messy materials featuring the textures, smells, beauty, and wonder of nature
  • Activities to develop children's observation skills, creativity and innovate thinking
  • Green House and planting boxes
  • Water play and exploration
  • Music and Dramatic play

The impact of Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms is significant. These learning spaces:

  • The next generation of environmental stewards
  • Create new experiential learning opportunities for children to enhance important observation and problem-solving skills
  • Provide places for stimulating hands-on, spontaneous outdoor play
  • Positively influence children, families, and communities

Children who play in nature gain the following:

  • Enhanced observation skills
  • Improved fine motor skills
  • Improved concentration (especially beneficial for children with ADHD)
  • Greater recovery from cognitive fatigue
  • Improved academic performance in reading, writing, math and science
  • Develop an attraction for nature

It is our hope that OLE will serve as a demonstration to inspire other schools and programs to integrate nature into children's daily learning. We will help children develop strong connections with nature that will make a difference in their learning and in their lives for years to come.