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The Advantages of Outdoor Play and Activities at Schools

by Ben Spray on September 22, 2023

Getting students outdoors for playtime and lessons is an increasingly popular trend in schools across the UK. While indoor classroom learning certainly has its place, time spent outdoors offers many unique benefits. Fresh air, natural daylight, greenery and open space promote healthy child development and enrich the school experience. Below we’ll explore the diverse advantages outdoor school play and activities can provide for students, teachers and the overall educational environment.

Promotes Physical Fitness and Overall Health

Outdoor play and activities at school are an excellent way to help children get the daily physical activity they need for proper growth and health. Running freely in the playground, using climbing frames, playing games like tag and football all allow students to stretch their muscles and get their blood pumping. The variety of movements challenges and improves balance, coordination and motor skills. Children often naturally engage in more vigorous activity when outdoors versus a classroom setting. Sports lessons and active games held outside provide another opportunity to break a sweat. The physical benefits of regular outdoor playtime promote cardiovascular fitness, strength and healthy body composition in growing kids. Spending time outdoors also typically increases exposure to natural daylight. This boosts vitamin D levels and regulates circadian rhythms for proper sleep. Overall, outdoor play and activity helps cultivate healthy, active students.

Supports Cognitive Skills and Academic Performance

Research shows that time spent outdoors has cognitive benefits that can support classroom learning and academic performance. Exposure to fresh air, sunlight and natural settings helps regulate the brain’s serotonin levels, reducing stress and improving focus. Natural elements like plants, hills and soil landscapes visually engage and restore mental faculties. Greenery and open spaces allow children’s minds to rest and replenish attention. This helps kids concentrate better when back inside. Moving learning outdoors also provides novelty and variety to engage students’ brains in new ways. Lessons that incorporate nature like science, maths using measurements and literacy outdoors give the brain a change of scene. Furthermore, active outdoor play helps grow capabilities like problem-solving that aid academic skills. The cognitive perks of spending time outside during the school day translate to improved learning capacity indoors as well.

Encourages Creative and Imaginative Play

Open-ended outdoor environments spawn more creativity and imagination in children’s play than indoor spaces. Natural loose parts like sticks, stones, leaves and dirt prompt inventive uses. Sloping hills, trees and bushes spark imaginative play scenarios and storytelling. Green school grounds full of play structures, markings and features allow kids to dream up countless games. They design rules and roles as they play. Chalk drawing on pavements brings unlimited creative possibility. Outdoor spaces provide room for large scale constructions using sticks or milk crates. Kids harness innovation to transform outdoor areas into whatever they envision. This ability to play creatively boosts divergent thinking, problem solving and collaboration skills. Unstructured imaginative play outdoors is a valuable part of childhood.

Supports Emotional Wellbeing and Self-Regulation

Outdoor environments at school have calming, stress-reducing qualities that support emotional wellbeing in students. Natural areas help children feel free to express themselves openly and process feelings. The spaciousness allows them to find their own space if upset or overstimulated. Taking a short walk outdoors can help kids cool off and self-regulate emotions. Playing with pets outdoors reduces anxiety. Gardens provide settings to sit quietly with thoughts. Green school grounds are associated with fewer behavioural and emotional struggles. Being outside improves mood, reduces stress and builds confidence by allowing children to take healthy risks. Teachers can also utilise outdoor spaces for counselling upset students. Supporting emotional health provides a foundation for classroom learning.

Teaches Responsibility and Environmental Awareness

Caring for living things and the environment outdoors fosters responsibility in children. Outdoor classrooms, play areas and gardens give many chances to instil caretaking habits. Students learn to gently handle creatures, water plants and respect nature. Composting and recycling stations teach conservation. Noticing wildlife habitats and processes raises environmental awareness. Cultivating gardens together builds teamwork. With guidance, students can share responsibility for planning and maintaining outdoor areas. These important lessons nurture empathy, maturity and a view of their place in the natural world. Kids also gain perspective on where food and common products originate. Being in nature regularly engages children as active stewards of the environment.

Facilitates Social Interaction and Relationship Skills

Shared outdoor spaces allow for meaningful social interactions between students. Unstructured playtimes outdoors encourage relationship building and working together. Students practice verbal communication, cooperation, sharing and problem solving as they navigate play. Peacefully resolving conflicts over outdoor equipment or play space teaches empathy and patience. Collaborative games and lessons outdoors foster teamwork skills too. Eating snack or reading in nature settings often sparks conversation. Exploring nature together builds bonds. Gardening and caretaking activities require collaboration as well. Outdoor play facilitates positive connections and social inclusion too. The less restrictive setting enables kids to comfortably interact. Overall, outdoors is an ideal venue for developing healthy social skills.

Provides Sensory-Motor Skill Building

A variety of terrain and textures in schoolyards creates opportunities to challenge developing sensory-motor skills. Uneven grassy areas, woodchip piles, gravel pits and sandy spaces help strengthen balance reactions. Climbing structures, monkey bars and rope swings build arm and hand strength. Crawling tunnels, balance beams and stepping stone paths improve coordination. Chasing games across changing surfaces allows practice with agility and spatial awareness. Ball play on open ground aids eye-tracking and response time. Digging in dirt and sand promotes hand and finger dexterity. Different outdoor settings engage the senses such as touching tree bark or hearing wind chimes. The stimulation benefits sensory integration needed for learning.

Promotes Mobile, Active Learning

Incorporating outdoor environments into teaching facilitates more hands-on, mobile learning for students of all ages. Classes can readily be taken outside to conduct experiments, read, practice skills and engage with instruction in a new setting. Younger kids learn shapes and colours while hunting for natural examples outdoors. Nature scavenger hunts bring science concepts to life. Maths lessons make use of measurements, shapes and counting in the real world. Quiet reading time in a garden boosts literacy. Adaptations allow standard lessons to continue outdoors. Movement and textures make concepts more memorable. Outdoor learning activates the body and makes associations with natural cues. Utilising outdoor areas allows students of all ages to learn by doing.

Provides Change of Scene and Novelty

Simply spending time outdoors provides novelty and stimulates the senses for students accustomed to indoor classrooms. Exposure to fresh air, sounds, scents and textures offers change. Watching trees swaying and birds flying holds innate fascination. Weather variations like sun, clouds and rain bring uniqueness. Enjoying class snacks or reading on a lawn or pavement instead of at desks feels new. Changing the routine to include outdoor time helps recharge children's minds. The variability outdoors sparks interest and enjoyment in learning. Even a short outdoor walk restores attention for further focused classroom work. It provides perspective and refreshes students.

Allows Freedom of Movement and Expression

Outdoor spaces give children more freedom to move without constraints. Classrooms require students to sit relatively still and quiet for long stretches. The playground and schoolyard allow kids to run, climb, yell, dance and exert energy freely. Unregimented time outdoors gives children a sanctioned opportunity to express themselves through their bodies. This helps satisfy developmental needs for movement and benefits wellbeing. Freedom outdoors also enables solitary time for quieter kids who may feel overwhelmed indoors. Providing regular outdoor play and activity time allows kids to be themselves. Children can then return indoors focused and regulated.

Overall, facilitating outdoor play, lessons and activities at school provides diverse benefits for students and the learning environment. Fresh air, activity, sensory stimuli and connection with nature enhance development, health and engagement with academics. Outdoor environments allow teaching methods that suits students’ needs for play, interaction, movement and exploration. Optimising school outdoor areas and scheduling daily outdoor time, when feasible, enriches the educational experience for children. The advantages for physical fitness, emotional wellbeing, cognitive skills and relationship building make outdoor play and learning an essential component at schools.