Increased school performance

Children’s school performance, among others, has been proven to increase when learning outdoors (Cottrell & Cottrell, 2020). Professionals have argued that outdoor activities have resulted in higher responses towards learning and engagement for students with and without disabilities. This can be seen in students’ academic achievements, their in-school behaviour and the way their understanding and application of tasks is provoked. Transferring learning to an outside environment and context can be beneficial in a wide range of subjects including mathematics, language, science, social studies and other curricular subject matters.

Liebermann and Hoody (1998) argue that the implementation of the environment as a context of learning is a vital asset for students’ own understanding of their natural and socio-cultural understanding. It engages multiple intelligences to grow and helps solving authentic problems which subsequently leads to better test-scores in standardized assessments. Overall behaviour and attendance tend to rise as content and activities spark more interests

in students. Adjacent to that is the likelihood of students wanting to read, write and talk

more with others about important issues related to their surroundings. This results in rising opportunities for reading, writing and expression skills for students with and without special needs (Liebermann & Hoody, 1998). It also leads to a more confident use of vocabulary.

Additionally, attitudes and skills related to mathematics change positively as students understand concepts and content related to their environment more efficiently and can connect their knowledge to different, relevant situations. They acknowledge that maths can be found and applied everywhere in their real-world which makes it more engaging and meaningful to them. Hence, students with varying ability levels tend to master mathematical skills more easily.

This also relates to Jean Jaques Rousseau’s (1712-1778) theory that, according to Brodin and Lindstrand (2006), states how “children learn best from direct experiences from the immediate environment and […] that learning primarily arrived from nature, persons in the environment and from objects around the child.” Implementing outdoor learning properly will help all learners to increase their intellectual capacity and foster meaningful basic skills on a daily basis. This could be beneficial for students with social deficits or language barriers and is oftentimes achieved through “hands-on” or playful learning which promotes lifelong learning for all students as it combines different experimental concepts (Brodin, 2009).

Supports child development

Outdoor education has a significant impact on the child’s development and learning in various areas. Hopkins and Putnam (1993) mention three important aspects that evolve when it comes to learning in an inclusive outdoor environment:

  1. Self-awareness and participation of the individual student,
  2. Collaboration and development when working with Others, and
  3. Gaining experimental knowledge about their natural environment.

Students gain experiences in leadership and problem solving while engaging with their immediate environment. They benefit developmentally by being more independent, enhancing their motor skills and creativity.

Furthermore, creating accessible outdoor practices and play for all children will support children’s social skills, reasoning and sensory perception, and enables all students to explore their environment with their peers (Spencer, 2003). This can be a decisive factor for students with special conditions as they get the chance to interact with all peers, which will dismantle prejudices and help growing relationships (Edutopia, 2009). They are exposed to creating their own experiences while overcoming emotional and physical challenges as well as increasing their ability to find solutions as a group (Brodin, 2009). Communication amongst students and teachers is essential to help all learners to show their full potential by reacting to individual needs and will support breaking down barriers within the classroom community.

Above all, being outdoors has been proven to positively impact the development of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and helps in reducing their symptoms and increasing their attention span (Armstrong, 2018). Learning outdoors seems to have a restorative effect on the mind and behaviour. Therefore, the positive support that comes with learning outdoors will benefit all students, their self-esteem and can help to advocate inclusion in their social lives.

Engages families and the community

The idea of collaborative learning can even be taken a step further when parents and the local community become part of the learning trajectory of children. According to Cremin and Arthur (2014), the involvement of parents in their child’s education can help remove barriers to learning, raise attainment and improve attitudes and behaviour. In comparison to a regular classroom setting, outdoor education naturally offers opportunities to connect as the physical space of nature does not visually cut the learners off behind closed doors. In fact, education happens in an open space that allows endless opportunities room to invite guests and visit local places. Tichá, Abery, Johnstone, Poghosyan and Hunt (2018) also stress the importance of parental involvement especially in inclusive education as the family often builds the only constant across a child’s lifespan.

According to Parsons and Traunter (2019), parents often prefer structured and scheduled learning activities as they are perceived to better-prepare children for the demands of later life and also allow the observation of predictable learning outcomes. However outdoor education is not equal to unstructured adventures but rather a real-life connected curriculum delivered in well planned and goal-oriented learning activities.

The transparency between teachers and parents about content and planning is a key concept in outdoor education. Regular meetings and invitations to join learning experiences will allow parents to witness the benefits of outdoor learning. Hence, they will not only become an observer of their child’s education but rather an active member and co-constructor.

Vygotsky’s theory of the construction of meaning through social interactions highlights the importance of collaborative learning (Mahn, 1999). Instead of learning parallel to each other, children collaboratively examine the world around them and initiate the investigation of bigger concepts together. The exchange of ideas and knowledge between generations but also involving different instances automatically allow the students to see the bigger picture and connect ideas to the real world. Finding a dead toad in the woods will raise many questions among the students and it gives endless opportunities to investigate concepts such as the life circle or what happens after death. To extend the learning community, students could invite experts such as the local forester or organize a multicultural funeral where parents get invited and share their knowledge about life and death in different cultures.

Regio Emilia, a pedagogy that strongly advocates the extension of a learning community, also addresses the variety of ways children communicate their learning by calling this “the hundred languages of children” (Edwards, et al., 1993, p. 6). In other words, it describes that children need to be able to make use of a variety of materials and learning opportunities in nature to express their thinking, a process that can be very limited for students learning indoors behind closed doors and only having access to premade materials.

Positive impact on students’ health and wellbeing

As students spend most of their time in school, their school environment has a great impact on their mental, social and physical well-being (Anderman, 2002). School is an important development context for students and having them sit behind their desk all day long does not have a positive long-term effect on their mental and physical well-being (Fiskum & Jacobsen, 2012). It can even be considered as a risk for their health.

Outdoor education offers students the opportunity to go outdoors, explore and learn in a different environment. It is an active learning method that can increase the health and well-being of students in many different areas (Folkman, 2011).

First, learning in the outdoors gives students an opportunity to be exposed to different, and mostly more challenging activities, which will impel them out of their comfort zones. This can have a beneficial effect on the mental health of students. Stepping out of their comfort zone will help students to understand that they can do more than they might think (Folkman, 2011). It will help them in building confidence and teaches them to tackle issues like anxiety and stress.

Furthermore, outdoor learning lowers the stress that students could experience inside the classroom, such as the pressure to perform. This can lead to positive sociological health outcomes and it will contribute to the creation of a suitable and comfortable learning environment for all students (Mutz & Muller, 2016).


Moreover, students’ self-efficacy is more likely to increase when they are learning in the outdoors (Mutz & Muller, 2016).  A high-level of self-efficacy goes along with a high level of self-confidence. Both are related to being healthier and the capacity to adapt more easily in social integration (Anderman, 2002).

Lastly, outdoor education does not only have an impact on students’ mental health, but also their physical health. Participating in activities in the outdoors improves the strength in the leg muscles of children. Also, students’ endurance increases rapidly when most of the learning takes place outside (Pasek, Szark-Eckardt & Kupcewicz, 2020).


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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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