Nature’s Classroom: The Benefits of Outdoor Learning

Nature's Classroom: The Benefits of Outdoor Learning

6 hours each day. ¼ of each day. Almost ½ of a child’s waking moments. What does this equal? Just short of the hours of a school day, but sadly also the average amount of daily screen time for an 8-10 year old, according to the CDC. The time increases drastically as age increases and these staggering numbers do not even include the use of a device for schoolwork. These statistics make us shake our heads and yearn for the simplicity of the good old days.

How can we get back to the basics?

Yes, technology is an inevitable part of the world today and in order to prepare our youth for the workforce, the curriculum needs to include technology. But, it is imperative that we expose children to more than a screen. Outdoor learning has many benefits, including:

  • Improving physical health – Regular outdoor activities help children stay physically active and promote a healthy lifestyle.
  • Enhancing creativity, imagination, and spatial awareness -Exploring the outdoors allows children to make connections between their academic knowledge and the real world.
  • Promoting social skills – Outdoor activities provide children with opportunities for social interaction, teamwork, and cooperation.
  • Reducing stress – Spending time in nature has a calming and stress-reducing effect, promoting emotional well-being and resilience.
  • Fostering environmental awareness – Outdoor activities expose children to the wonders of nature, fostering a deep appreciation and respect for the environment.
  • Improving academic performance – Outdoor learning environments stimulate children’s curiosity, motivation, and engagement, leading to improved focus and retention of information.

How Cornerstone Academy balances traditional and innovative activities

Cornerstone has long prided itself on being innovative and cutting edge, but also traditional and well-balanced. A very unique and outstanding benefit of our school is our location. Nestled among three wooded acres, our campus has been updated and upgraded to provide multiple opportunities for safe outdoor learning and exploration.

Swinging, climbing, running and balancing are gross motor activities often taken for granted as part of childhood. As recess time is decreasing in other educational settings, we play outside daily for recess for at least 30 minutes each morning. For some children, it is our school where they learn how to independently swing, use the monkey bars and balance on our log beams.

The buildup of core muscles, strength and confidence throughout the year is obvious and amazing. During recess our students might be found in the sandbox, outdoor mud kitchen, Ga-Ga ball pit, shooting hoops, organizing games of tag, walking laps while chatting or lounging peacefully in our hanging swings or fairy house. There is something for everyone and a safe space dedicated for each activity. Our gym class, taught by a certified P.E. teacher, is also conducted outside weekly. Skills such as dribbling, pickleball, obstacle courses and even street hockey are part of the PE curriculum throughout the year.

Regular outdoor learning and lessons

After recess and throughout the day, learning and lessons take place outside regularly, as well. With multiple outdoor classroom options, it is common to find a class outside with their teacher listening to a book. Scavenger hunts are a favorite activity to get students moving and actively
engaged in the lesson. Older students often participate in nature journaling and the watercolors they create are absolutely stunning. The youngest of our students are able to identify a wide variety of birds because of time spent in our covered observation area. It is a delightful spot to listen to the sounds of nature, rain or shine! We learn map skills by drawing grids on the driveway and practice math facts with sidewalk chalk. Simple but extremely effective.

Outdoor learning is fun

To the children, being outside is simply ‘fun.’ They know, after talking to children in other schools, that they are ‘lucky’ they get to be outside as often as we are. It is not only lucky, but healthy. Mental health experts will recommend time outside at the top of their lists of simple habits to adopt. We use it as an opportunity for children to practice problem solving among peers and to think creatively and independently. We are often thrilled to find them applying concepts from the classroom in their play. When given the freedom, they choose to make bug hotels, recreate the Oregon Trail or act out characters from books we have read. Being outdoors is an awesome benefit for the staff, as well. Perks like this keep everyone feeling refreshed and energized. We are proud at Cornerstone to play and learn outdoors!