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The Benefits of Outdoor Activity for Kids – and Easy Ways to Incorporate Nature in the Classroom

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January 03, 2024


As an educator, you already know just how important it is to help children develop a love for learning, discovery, and exploration. 

And what better way to inspire young learners than by embracing the natural world around us all? Incorporating outdoor activities and nature into your classroom can offer a range of benefits to students – and it can be simpler than you might think! 

Below, we’ll explore the benefits of outdoor activity for kids, share some easy ways to incorporate nature in the classroom, and offer some tips for getting started today.

What Are the Benefits of Outdoor Nature Play?

benefits of outdoor activity

Childhood is a critical period for human cognitive, social, and emotional development. One of the most valuable experiences during childhood is playing outdoors in nature. 

Not only is it fun and engaging, but it also provides numerous benefits that can have lasting effects on a child’s overall well-being.

Plus, it builds lifelong passions and interests – did you know that 87% of kids who played outdoors as kids cited a strong love of nature as an adult?

As a teacher, you likely have heard the phrase “play is the work of children.” However, with more and more technological advances and a growing prevalence of indoor activities, children have fewer and fewer opportunities to play outside. This is where outdoor nature play comes in. 

From climbing trees to gathering rocks, playing outside is not just fun but is also vital for childhood development. Here’s why.

Improved Physical Health

Spending time outdoors is an excellent way to promote physical fitness and healthy habits. Children who spend more time playing outdoors tend to be more active, which in turn reduces their risk of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. 

Outdoor play also promotes the development of gross motor skills, which are critical for physical coordination, balance, and overall physical development.

Increased Communication Skills

Playing outside in nature with other children helps develop communication and social skills. Children learn to negotiate, share, and cooperate with others while they engage in imaginative and pretend play. 

Free play in nature also helps children to develop creativity and problem-solving skills, which can have a lasting impact on academic and career success.

Better Attention 

Studies show that children who play outside for at least an hour a day show fewer symptoms of ADHD and other behavioral problems. Giving children a chance to run around, explore, and find distractions outside helps them to be more attentive, better behaved, and less impulsive in the classroom. 

Academic Outcomes

Research has linked outdoor play to better academic outcomes, especially in science and math. Studies have found that children who engage in outdoor activities have increased motivation, higher levels of creativity, and improved critical thinking skills. Additionally, outdoor education experiences have been found to reduce stress and increase student engagement and retention.

Promotes Creativity and Problem-Solving

When children play outside, they are often forced to use their imagination and creativity to pass the time. Whether it’s building a fort out of sticks or re-enacting a scene from a favorite book, outdoor play allows children to use their minds in creative ways. 

And since nature is full of surprises, children have the chance to run into new problems that they must figure out how to solve on their own, which leads to better problem-solving skills.

Improved Ability to Self-Reflect

When children have outdoor playtime, they are often left alone by adults, giving them the opportunity to learn to self-reflect. 

By engaging with nature, children can learn how to self-regulate their emotions and thoughts, which promotes healthy development. Being outside provides space for children to reflect on their experiences and how they fit into the bigger picture, which can lead to greater self-awareness.

Builds Resilience

Outdoor nature play requires children to adapt to nature, whether that be a sudden rainstorm or a restricted play area. By being forced to adapt in this way, children become more resilient. This helps prepare them for real-world situations as they grow older and gives them a better sense of control over their lives.

Aids in Brain Development 

Playing outside provides children with many sensory, motor, and proprioceptive experiences that can help with their overall brain development. Exposure to nature and various experiences improves cognitive abilities, memory, and executive functioning. 

Research shows that children who play outside often have better academic outcomes and have higher test scores.

Sparks Interest in New Topics

Spending time outside can spark curiosity in children and expose them to new topics. They might become interested in plants, insects, birds, or animals and want to learn more about them. 

This can lead to a lifelong love of nature and the environment, which can be beneficial for both children and the natural world.

How Do You Incorporate Nature in the Classroom?

benefits of outdoor activity

By using nature as a tool for teaching, you can keep your students engaged, improve their concentration, and give them a greater appreciation for the world they live in.

1. Use Nature as Manipulatives

Nature provides us with a vast array of materials that can be used as manipulatives in the classroom. 

For example, rocks and shells can be used for counting and sorting, while leaves and flowers can be used for art projects and sensory exploration. By using these natural materials, you can create a more tactile and interactive learning environment, which will help your students retain information more effectively.

Using natural materials in the classroom can help to spark your students’ curiosity and encourage them to ask questions about the world around them. For example, you could use pine cones to teach your students about seeds and how they grow, or use seashells to introduce them to marine biology.

2. Take the Classroom Outdoors

Another great way to incorporate nature in the classroom is by taking your lessons outdoors. 

This can involve anything from nature walks and scavenger hunts to more in-depth projects such as planting a garden or building birdhouses. 

By taking your students outside, you can help them to establish a stronger connection with nature, which can lead to a greater sense of empathy and respect for the environment.

3. Care for Plants

Taking care of plants can further nurture a sense of responsibility and management skills in students. 

Teaching students about the parts of a plant, what they need to grow, how to water them, and how to detect any issues they might have are just a few core concepts that will emphasize important life lessons that will benefit them both inside and outside the classroom.

4. Do Outdoor Scavenger Hunts

Outdoor scavenger hunts are a fun way to explore the natural world around your school. Create a list of items that can be found, such as a certain type of leaf, a caterpillar, or a certain rock formation. 

Let students work in teams to find items and learn about their specific environment. This can also be extended to nature-related riddles or trivia, and encourage students to research, read, and use nature-related facts to win a challenge.

5. Do Walking Podcast Listening Sessions

Podcasts that emphasize the natural environment can bring a fresh perspective on nature, explore environmental topics, and keep students informed about issues that affect their health and communities. 

Create listening sessions for students to listen to various episodes and expand their environmental knowledge. You can have guided questions based on common themes of the podcasts or encourage students to interpret and share what they feel. 

6. Hold Morning Meetings Outside

Take your morning meeting outside and regroup your class for a fresh start. Starting a class outside is a great way to set a positive tone for the day. Incorporating a gratitude activity where students express appreciation for nature could have lasting benefits for both students and teachers.

7. Plan Outdoor Field Trips

Having outdoor field trips as part of your curriculum is another way to incorporate nature into your classroom. It creates an opportunity for a greater appreciation of nature. 

Field trips could be to the mountains, parks, or any other place where students can learn about nature and interact with it.

8. Give Students Options

One of the most straightforward ways to incorporate nature into your classroom is by giving students an option to choose where they can work. 

For instance, you can set up a designated area in your classroom where students can comfortably sit while surrounded by plants, flowers, or any other green elements. 

Alternatively, if your school has a garden, you can provide students with the option to head outside for some fresh air and work surrounded by nature. 

9. Build it Into the Regular Routine

Work on actively scheduling outdoor activities as part of your daily or weekly curriculum.

For example, you can take your students on a nature walk to spot various plants and animals, observe weather patterns, or gather leaves for art projects. 

The possibilities are endless, and the learning opportunities are equally diverse. If you can’t commit to a full outdoor activity, try incorporating nature-based storytelling or reading books about the environment during story time. 

10. Move Mealtimes Outdoors

You can elevate the experience of mealtimes for your students by moving them outdoors.

 An outdoor picnic, snack time, or lunch break is an excellent way for students to get a break from the classroom and recharge. Plus, it allows them to connect with nature and practice mindfulness while enjoying their meal in a serene environment. 

Final Thoughts

benefits of outdoor activity

Outdoor activity and nature time offer numerous benefits to children – and as an educator, you can play an essential role in helping kids develop a love and appreciation for the natural world. 

By incorporating outdoor activities and nature into your classroom, you can improve physical health, boost cognitive function, encourage creativity and imagination, and promote social and emotional development. 

So why not start today? Take your class outside, go on a nature walk, or simply introduce some natural elements into your classroom. The possibilities are endless – and so are the benefits.

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a passionate special education teacher with [number] years of experience, uses her classroom knowledge to craft engaging stories that celebrate the unique strengths of all learners.