Outdoor Education

Outdoor Education is a method for learning that can be viewed from many different perspectives, and so its definition varies. However, the most common definition of outdoor education, that is widely used, is:

‘Outdoor education is an experiential process of learning by doing, which takes place primarily through the exposure to the out-of-doors. In outdoor education the emphasis for the subject of learning is placed on relationships, relationships concerning people and natural resources.’ (Priest 1986, p.13)

This definition is built upon six major points. Outdoor education:

  1. is a method for learning
  2. is experiential
  3. most of the time takes places outdoors
  4. requires use of all senses
  5. is based upon interdisciplinary curriculum matter
  6. is a matter of relationships involving people and natural resources
Outdoor education is a method for learning

The first point describes how outdoor education can be a method for learning. Outdoor education means creating a learning experience outside that teaches aspects of any subject that can be learned best outside the classroom. The learning will occur through the authentic learning environment (outside) and with (direct) interaction with the outdoors (Szczytko, Carrier & Stevenson, 2018).

Outdoor education is experimental

The second point focuses on the importance of providing children with meaningful experiences during their learning. Lloyd Burgess (L.B) Sharp, who was an important innovative thinker in terms of outdoor education, believes that everything that can be learned best through experience dealing directly with native materials and life situations outside the school should be learned there (Sharp, 1943).

Outdoor education most of the time takes places in outdoors

The third point emphasizes where outdoor education takes places, which is often in any outdoor environment outside the school. This could be something from a school year to an industrial area to a forest. However, some aspects of the outdoors can also take place indoors (Tas & Gulen, 2019). Some examples are preparing material for a study outside, watching a slideshow about the outdoors, learning about basic concepts before a field trip or planning an expedition.

Outdoor education requires the use of all the senses

Another aspect of outdoor education is the use of all senses in the outdoors. By having children use different senses during outdoor education will help them create a deeper sensitivity to their environment (Hart, 2003). This sensitivity appears to enable other learning objectives as well and will help students to learn (Auer, 2008).

Outdoor education is based on interdisciplinary curriculum matter

The fifth point focuses on the fact that outdoor education is based on interdisciplinary curriculum matter. When compared with learning inside the classroom, outdoor education is a less structured form of education with a curriculum that develops automatically.

Outdoor education is a matter of relationships involving people and natural resources

The last point focuses on how the outdoors itself and the cultural aspects are related to the natural environment. The focus is on using the natural environment to facilitate students in their integration with nature and different learning activities (Tas & Gulen, 2019). It involves understanding, appreciating and building a relationship with the natural environment.

Outdoor Education and Inclusion

The notion of ALL children, including individuals with special needs, having the right to attend a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and being supported with special services to meet their unique needs first became law in 1975 under the “Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA)” (Watson, Cantu & Terry, 2017). This ongoing process of fighting for the rights of all children has extended to the desire of establishing inclusive classroom settings all over the world, with almost every school teaching students with special educational needs nowadays and all students, with and without special conditions, must be given the chance to participate equally in a general learning setting.

Brodin and Lindstrand (2006) argue that the disability itself is “seldom an obstacle for participation”, but rather the accessibility to tools and the curriculum and all students must be seen as equally valued and challenged, providing additional tools and assistance if needed. But inclusiveness is not only about disabilities – it touches upon the concept of intersectionality, where an individual’s identity is shaped by multiple aspects in their lives such as, among others, race, gender and ability. These oftentimes invisible areas intersect with each other and influence how we perceive and understand someone’s identity as well as the world around us (Collins & Bilge, 2016). Therefore, we must be aware of different aspects when teaching students from all over the world.


Subsequently, when fostering outdoor education in schools, all aspects about inclusion need to be considered as well as the environmental conditions determine whether an individual will be included or excluded (Brodin & Lindstrand, 2006).

Moreover, enabling all students with access to outdoor education will foster all kinds of interactions with peers and the environment and support the view that all students are equally worth being considered. Whereas it depends on the location of your school, the environment outside of it and the contacts you make, educators must always thrive to create a safe space for all students to participate, focussing on their strengths rather than their weaknesses (Sugerman, 2001).

According to Sugerman (2001), it is the facilitators responsibility to educate themselves about an individual’s disability and how to adapt and implement an outdoor learning experience for all, including students with special conditions. Educators must go through several processes to make outdoor learning accessible for a wide range of students. Hereto, it is essential to research a variety of materials and contacts, adapting teaching methods for individuals with disabilities and carrying out structurally changed lessons in order to evaluate and reflect on the process afterwards.

Students with Special Needs

Every child is unique in their learning and comes with a variety of strengths and challenges. Individual strengths and personal interest should always be a driving force in a student’s learning trajectory to guide them towards their best potential. Nevertheless, challenges such as learning struggles or physical differences cannot be neglected at the same time.

Special needs are vital to be identified in order to seek for adequate responses in the learning environment and eventually the reduction of boundaries.

According to Watson, Cantu and Terry (2017), students qualify for special needs if they have a condition that significantly impacts their educational performance. These cognitive, mental and physical conditions can be summarized into four main areas of special attention (see appendix a). The brief categorization of special needs among learners does not follow the intention of generalizing. The table merely draws attention to the variety of conditions to evoke adequate responses in the physical environment as well as pedagogy and content approach. A closer connection between the four defined conditions and outdoor education will be made in the course of this chapter. An analysis of identified challenges and practical solutions will be outlined



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