Why We Must Include Outdoor Learning in our Home Preschool

mother and child outsideI saw it again: another blog post with an at-home preschool schedule that consisted of a morning of indoor activities. I doubt this mom is forcing her kids to stay inside. I even bet that they spend plenty of time outside. But the outdoors deserves an intentional place in our home preschool planning.

Last week, the UK government released the findings from a large study showing the benefits of outdoor learning. The study looked at school-age children in a formal setting, but I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that most of these benefits would extend to younger children and their parents at home, teaching them. Look at what the researchers found:

  • Children found lessons more enjoyable.
  • Children felt happier and healthier.
  • Children got along better with others and their social skills improved.
  • Outdoor learning improved teachers’ health and well-being.
  • Outdoor learning had a positive impact on teachers’ practice.
  • Outdoor learning improved teachers’ job satisfaction.

This is a big deal! Happy, healthier children, enjoying their lessons, improving their social skills. Teachers who are happier and healthier, more satisfied with what they are doing, and doing it better. And this has been achieved by taking learning outdoors.

Are our kids missing out?

If we don’t think about outdoor learning when we plan our home preschool, or school in general, we are missing out on a huge opportunity. And so are our kids. The outdoors offers space for gross motor skills to develop. The outdoors contains countless ‘loose parts’ to inspire creative play. The outdoors allows for messy, sensory experiences. Our children need the space and opportunities afforded by the outdoors.

By exclusively planning preschool for the indoors, we show our child that Learning takes place inside. Our child comes to see that Important Things happen inside, not outside. We imply that the indoors is more valuable and more important than the outdoors. We use the outdoors as a reward for a child finishing his work, ignoring that a child’s play is his work. Or, we send the child outdoors when they are underfoot, like a Punishment: the outdoors is where you must go when your behavior inside is out of hand.

Actions speak very loudly to our children, and we need to take a close look at what we are tacitly showing our children through the way we plan their time.

Taking Advantage of Outdoor Learning at Home

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If we want to reap the benefits of outdoor learning, we need take a look at the environment we provide for our kids. This goes for parents who do preschool at home, as well as those who want to make the most of their child’s time at home. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Is your child able to go outside whenever he pleases? What would it take for this to happen (securing the back yard, storing boots and raincoats near the door, etc.)? Freedom of movement between the indoors and outdoors is a key best practice for any nursery, and is certainly something we can strive for at home. This is a decided move away from using the outdoors as a reward for ‘academic’ work, or to get our children out of the way.
  • Do you view your outdoor space as a learning space? It is so easy to get caught up in providing ‘educational’ toys for our children, but we often forget to invest in our outdoor space. It doesn’t have to cost much.
  • Are you taking a wide view of your child’s development? Literacy and numeracy easily lend themselves to small motor activities that easily take place indoors. When you start to think about your child’s gross motor skills, construction play, and so on, you will want to go outside and take advantage of the space.
  • Do you lead your child outside? Do you plan activities inside and outside equally? Do you, personally, go outside for recreation, showing your child that you value the outdoors?

Incorporating outdoor learning into our at-home preschool is a simple thing to do. It is as easy as trading a pen and paper for a stick and some mud. It is as quick as opening a door. And there are incredible benefits to both you and your child.

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