Outdoor learning (part three)

What a testament it is to outdoor learning that it takes three posts to cover all the benefits and how they can be used in a preschool daily routine. The more I have researched this topic, I have seen that I have, semi-unconsciously, included outdoor learning in my teaching for years. This shows how easy outdoor learning can be incorporated! Shall we dive back into more benefits?


Surely you didn’t think I would not mention independence in this topic! In many – if not all – of my posts I talk about the importance of teaching independence to preschoolers and the positive effects that it has. How does outdoor learning support this? Previously I spoke about children solving problems themselves as they were not directly under the watchful eyes of teachers while playing outside. As with problem-solving, independence is encouraged as children feel more free to make their own decisions.

While outside, children decide for themselves what they are interested in and create their own tasks to amuse themselves. Being outside is not only about free play, I often see children discovering or learning new things independently or in groups. 

In my last school, there were stinging nettles in the playground which I drew the children’s attention to. I offhandedly remarked that there may also be some dock leaves around which soothe nettle stings, and the children then couldn’t get it out of their heads. As we went back into the cloakroom to change for lunch, the children asked more and more about dock leaves. I pulled up a picture and showed them what dock leaves were and they seemed satisfied.

Cut to two or three days later, two children in my class came up to me and showed me a handful of leaves they’d picked: “Hayley? Are these the doctor leaves?” (seemingly dock leaves had been given a new name). Independently, these children had taken it upon themselves to learn, explore, and ask for new knowledge. They had taken control of their learning.

As experienced teachers, our heads are full of topics and different ways to teach them. As important as it is for teachers, to have this wealth of ideas, it is great for us to take a back seat and allow our preschoolers to teach themselves. I’ve spoken before about lessons we believe to be really interesting and fun where our classes have little to no interest. By watching the children in our classes, we can see what interests them, how they like to learn, and how to engage with them in a way that we may not have considered before.

Playing with friends

In this respect, playing with friends comes under the subheading of independence. I’ve spoken about free play before but let’s look at it when it comes to outdoor learning. Learning how to play with others is a huge part of a preschoolers journey.

Playing independently with friends while outside can lead to situations like the “doctor leaves” as I mentioned above. It can also lead to real friendships being forged.

In my experience, preschoolers will play with anyone and everyone, as long as they’re having fun. While outside, whether learning or playing, children learn how to entertain themselves and each other. Here, teachers are not dictating the activities – or I believe they shouldn’t be doing so – and this allows children to behave differently. I’ve observed children who behave very differently depending on who they are playing with and this is a huge part of their social development.

Playing alone

As important as socialising is, being able to play alone is very useful and important for children. I’ve worked with teachers who take it upon themselves to start playing with a child who is playing alone because they don’t want the child to feel left out. While this is a nice thing to do – depending on the situation – I believe that children should be allowed and encouraged to play alone. Yes, this may mean that we miss out on the entertainment of their observations and questions, but their ability to entertain themselves is invaluable. Outdoor learning encourages confidence in children. When children can play alone and don’t need constant entertainment, their imagination and creativity can blossom even further.

Creativity and imagination

Creativity is a great gift for a preschooler to have and it can be seen during art or science activities, working with sensory materials, and when making up games. Outside learning encourages creativity in ways that aren’t always possible within the classroom. In the classroom, there are toys, books, magic sand, playdoh, etc. for preschoolers to use and play with. Outside, there may just be a few bicycles or scooters, some gardening tools, or merely a wide-open space. In the mind of a child, open space has endless possibilities!

When children are not given toys that serve a specific purpose, or specifically led to an activity that has a clear beginning, middle, and end, they can create games and activities for themselves. When outside, children are stimulated by different sights, sounds, smells, and experiences that encourage them to explore and create.

An example of this is when children use items as something they’re not directly intended for. Sticks can be picked up and used as magic wands, guns (however controversial this may be, I have seen most children do this with one object or another), witch’s broomsticks, and many more things. Forts and houses can be built in bushes and kitchens and restaurants regularly appear where all-natural food is served.


Children, even ones new to preschool or childcare, are generally familiar with toys and their uses/purpose. They know how toy cars move and expect that toy fire engines have extendable ladders, doll’s houses have furniture that can be rearranged, and puzzles have spaces for each piece. 

Outside the classroom, however, children come face-to-face with materials, objects, and natural resources that they aren’t familiar with. Children can be left to their own devices and find out what each of these new items do or they can be shown by a teacher, an adult, or a peer. Children need to question things and this will aid them greatly in their future school career and in life: children that question things – and are encouraged to do so – grow up into free-thinking young people and adults.

Outdoor learning – three parts seems to be enough

As I hope I’ve shown, I am a big fan and believer in learning outside the classroom and I believe that the lessons children learn outdoors are invaluable for their futures. Although outdoor areas are not always available in preschools or childcare centres, I hope that this series of posts has encouraged you – as caregivers – to find more time to be outside. If your child is lucky enough to go to a preschool, nursery, or childcare with outdoor facilities, I hope you encourage their teachers to spend as much time outside as possible! 

Should your child’s educational environment not have outdoor facilities, I hope you have been inspired by these posts to do some outdoor learning with your child in your free time. I am sure that you all will learn a lot together.

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