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Kristen Craig

Why Outdoor Learning Matters

Post by Kristen Craig, 15 July 2021

As a teenager, babysitting was one of my first jobs. Almost every time I babysat, at some point, a kid would ask me, “Hey, can we go outside?” and I almost always said “Yes!”

Even though I had no early education training at the time, I knew that time outside was an easy way to have fun and entertain young children. While outside, I usually let their imaginations take over and I was just present to follow their leads.

Years later, I worked at a nonprofit organization focused on early care and education. One of the first things I learned from an early learning coach was that children learned through play. The years of babysitting and children wanting to go outside finally started to make sense! The children I watched were unknowingly learning colors, counting, shapes, and so much more from spending time outdoors.

In my experience, most conversations about early education are focused on instructional learning due to standardized testing. With such a narrow focus, the benefits of outdoor learning are often overlooked and undervalued. I believe outdoor learning should be incorporated into early learning curricula as a way to solidify concepts learned indoors, and researchers do too.

Going outdoors provides young children with the chance to breathe and learn deeply, encouraging them to connect with the wonders of nature. From taking pictures of creatures, creating drawings of them, asking questions, or seeking to find out more — the great outdoors offers new pathways for learning through inquiry.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a great testimonial from a teacher about how going outside changed her classroom and provided weeks of content for the children’s learning.

PBS Kids also has a fun and educational activity for parents to spend time outside with their children. In the future, I hope to see more emphasis placed on outdoor learning in our early childhood education community. If you need support developing opportunities for outdoor play in your setting, reach out to Learning Matters today!

About the Contributor: Kristen Craig is the Nonprofit Leadership and Effectiveness Associate at the Greater New Orleans Foundation. She helps coordinate the Foundation’s learning opportunities and GiveNOLA Day.