Outdoor Learning by Sylva Fae

Our Little Piece of Paradise

Have you ever been camping with an eighteen-month-old toddler? Add in a continuous rainstorm, a regimented campsite with a list of DO NOT rules longer than a guy rope. Believe me it wasn’t the idyllic, sitting round a campfire with a glass of wine, watching our daughter play kind of holiday we’d imagined. On day two, dejected, we packed up and came home wet, bedraggled and miserable.

We pondered – wouldn’t it be lovely if we had our own little woodland, somewhere just to turn up when the sun was shining? A place to do all the things we wanted without rules, to be free to cook on an open fire, to sing and dance through the trees without being in trouble for ‘disturbing the peace’? We wanted a safe place for our daughter to play, climb trees, get mucky and explore and do all the things we did as children. We thought it was just a dream but we each secretly researched the idea and discovered it was within our grasp.

We spent an informative and idyllic summer pottering around different woodlands for sale. We learnt the jargon; gently undulating in Wales actually means a cliff face, and good ground cover means thigh deep in nettles! We finally discovered our woodland in the middle of the fields in Shropshire, England – seven acres of mixed woodland, a perfect flat area for camping, a bank of badger setts, buzzards circling and some amazing old trees.

We sat on a huge fallen tree at the top of the hill and gazed out over the flowering rhododendrons and old oak trees to the sunlit fields beyond. The tingle of excitement rose as we just knew that this was our wood.I know we are so lucky to own a woodland, but you don’t need to own one to reap the benefits of the outdoors. A local park, woodland or a

National Trust park are all perfect places to get your children outdooThe Benefits of Outdoor Learning

Our children are growing up in a society surrounded by technology. Even preschool age children are learning skills that would have seemed science fiction to the children of my generation. Regular access to technology has become the norm and it is greatly affecting thinking and attention which in turn affects reasoning, problem solving, memory, language and creativity. Technology certainly has an important place in our children’s education but it shouldn’t replace traditional reading and outdoor play. This is a crucial stage to ensure that children have a balanced leisure time. As their brain is developing, it’s essential that parents provide opportunities for all aspects of learning, as their ability to focus effectively is fundamental for future learning and development.

Balance is the key to a well-rounded education. Research has shown that children who play outside develop better language skills, have enhanced sensory development, imagination and fewer behavioural problems. It’s no surprise that children with the freedom to play outdoors are fitter and have greater physical development.

A woodland provides an inspiring setting for learning, allowing children to experience the natural world first hand, while letting them to build confidence through ‘managed risk’. Running, jumping, climbing and balancing are great physical activities but the woods also provide a space to explore, developing their imaginations and creative thinking too. With twenty-five years experience as a teacher, I’ve learnt that the best way to promote learning is through fun. Through a mixture of guided activities and free experimental play, learning takes place in some form. Children need to be motivated to learn and what better motivation than to learn through play? Tell them it’s a game and they become more engaged and actively involved.

Activities to Encourage Children to Enjoy the Outdoors

Next time you take the family out for a walk in the countryside, don’t just go for a walk, make it into a fun activity to encourage imagination, exploring, problem solving and teamwork. Here are some ideas you can try:

Build a den.

Work together as a team collecting fallen branches to create your den. When it is completed, decide what it is going to be – a home for hedge ogres? A fort? The kingdom of the pixie king?

Create a woodland obstacle course.

Use fallen logs, sticks and stones to create a course for children to balance, crawl, climb and jump over.

Collect leaves to make a woodland collage.

You can preserve the memory of their creations with a photograph.

Give children challenges that make them search and explore.

Who can find the biggest / smallest leaf? How many different shades / shapes of leaves can they find?

Go on a rainbow treasure hunt.

Challenge your children to find a natural item for every colour  of the rainbow. Look at the leaves, the flowers growing in the hedgerows, berries, fungi, feathers or the insects you find. This is a great opportunity to chat to your children about never eating mushrooms or berries in the woods, and the importance of always washing their hands afterwards.

Hunt for the woodland fairies.

Can you find a fairy ring of toadstools? Is that hole in the tree trunk an entrance to a fairy house? Is that pile of berries an offering to the fairy queen? Create the magic and let your children’s imaginations run wild.

Go puddle jumping!

Children and clothes wash – let them get muddy and work off some of that boundless energy. Who can make the biggest splash? How deep is the puddle?

The activities I do with my own children are just for fun but the teacher in me can’t help but notice all the different aspects of learning taking place, and as a parent, I know I’m creating lasting memories.

Forest Bathing

The learning opportunities for our children are clear to see but spending time surrounded by nature provides health benefits for the whole family. The recent Japanese craze of ‘forest bathing’ is currently hitting the UK, but there is nothing ground breaking behind the concept. Fresh air, peace and quiet away from everyday stresses, and gentle exercise are natural forms of relaxation. Those who teach the art of ‘forest bathing’, claim it can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve energy levels, increase  sleep quality, and enhance concentration. So next time you are feeling stressed, swap the noise of the TV for the breeze through the trees and get out for some woodland therapy.

 

Sylva Fae is a married mum of three from Lancashire, England. She has spent twenty years teaching literacy to adults with learning difficulties and disabilities, and now works from home as a children’s writer and illustrator.  Sylva has published several children’s books and also writes a blog, Sylvanian Ramblings. Her debut book, Rainbow Monsters won the Chanticleer Best in Category award. You can discover more about Sylva on the Mom’s Favorite Reads website here: https://moms-favorite-reads.com/moms-authors/sylva-fae/

 

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