Picture a 4,000 m2 patch of meticulously cared for grass that is reminiscent of the English countryside, wooden cabins that transport you to Africa with furniture made from treated pine and eucalyptus wood, and aromatic plants, all surrounded by a forest of Jacaranda and pine trees.
This pioneering idea in Spain is being very well received by students and families, who increasingly value experience-based learning in closer contact with nature. Why is it so successful?
Advantages of outdoor learning
- It protects and keeps students safe from COVID-19 as classes are taught in outdoor spaces.
- It raises awareness of the environment and makes school spaces more sustainable.
- Positive psychology: nature has a clear effect on people’s psychological and emotional well-being.
- It motivates students: it improves their attitude towards learning and makes them more willing and proactive.
- It improves social skills, teamwork and problem solving.
- It encourages creativity, autonomy and self-esteem.
- It reduces stress, lack of concentration and irritability.
When children learn outdoors, their behaviour improves considerably. They want to learn and students that are somewhat reserved in the classroom due to the study plan often develop and progress more in an outdoor environment. Outdoor learning is not just an essential element to ensure that students enjoy classes and are motivated, but also to teach them crucially important life skills such as problem solving, teamwork or creativity.
Teachers that have tried it out see an improvement in students’ social skills and concentration as they are more relaxed and breathe fresh air. What’s more, moving to outdoor areas activates them both physically and mentally.
On top of many other benefits, students learn to respect and value the environment from a young age and further stimulate sensory integration. The spaces necessary for outdoor learning are clearly sustainable. From an ecological viewpoint, an initiative of this kind entails carbon-neutral classrooms as they do not use electricity or generate waste.
In addition, positive psychology — a cutting-edge concept in education — is applied to the learning process. Positive psychology involves studying the foundations of psychological well-being and happiness, reflecting on what makes life so valuable and the factors that help us lead a full life. Contact with nature is essential and gives us a sense of emotional well-being, something that has a direct impact on students’ academic and personal development.
It is also very healthy, even more so right now in the COVID-19 pandemic, when it is important to keep a safe distance and do as many activities outside as possible to prevent the virus from spreading.
What can students learn outdoors?
On top of a multitude of physical and sports activities that take place outdoors, we can now add reading in Spanish or English classes, experiments, vegetable gardens, compost stations or botanical gardens in science, maths, music, art, and much more! All subjects can be adapted to an outdoor environment, making the most of the resources that schools have outside and touching on such important cross-curricular topics as sustainability and environmental awareness.
We believe that the good climate in many parts of Spain will drive forward this paradigm change, and an increasing number of schools will opt for outdoor learning just like some of the centres belonging to the Best Schools in Spain network. This new outlook on education impacts students’ well-being and level of learning, and also increases their (extremely important) environmental awareness.