Outdoor Learning Environments: A Natural Way to Entertain and Energize
PDPlay introduced the concept of Outdoor Learning Environments in response to feedback from childhood development experts about the need for educational based play and as a way to bridge traditional playgrounds and the natural environment, creating a pioneering and fun way for children to fully reap the benefit of play.
Our Outdoor Learning Environments offer children the opportunity to play with and among natural elements. While traditional PDPlay playgrounds are comprised of our HDPE recycled plastic lumber, our Outdoor Learning Environments incorporate natural elements that still comply with commercial playground guidelines and safety laws. These playgrounds include components such as local plants and boulders, sustainable slides built directly into grass hills, or tree surrounds and seating areas to contribute to the authenticity of the natural environment. Adding these elements can enhance and reinforce the lessons children learn in the classroom while promoting social interaction and encouraging physical and imaginative play.
In an age when even the tiniest toddler fingers easily manipulate images on a screen, an outdoor learning environment is a breath of fresh air. Numerous studies find that the natural world is essential to a child’s physical and emotional health. The correlation between outdoor play and social, cognitive and behavioral development is well documented with evidence supporting benefits such as the improved recall of information, creative problem solving and increased creativity among children. Outdoor learning environments are a way to nurture children with safe and interesting play spaces that integrate with the world around them.
Outdoor play is very different from indoor play in that children are allowed to move faster, talk louder and maybe even get a little messy. Children become aware of the natural elements in these special play spaces and observe how they change over time.
All Senses on Deck
Children don’t have to travel to a beach to run their fingers through sand or water. Outdoor learning environments can include sand features and water features that are perfect for splashing around or creating wave patterns. Pair those sand and water features together and you’ve created the perfect conditions for sandcastles that are engineering marvels created without an ocean in sight.
Trees within outdoor learning environments not only provide shade during the warmest months of the year, but they are also visual cues that seasons are changing as leaf buds appear, then fill the branches with leaves which change into autumnal colors and eventually fall to the ground.
Trees also respond visibly to the elements when they are pelted by wind, rain, hail, and snow. Moving closer to the ground, children notice that a little bit of an incline on a play space hillside becomes the perfect spot for tumbling or rolling while boulders seem to offer up a friendly invitation to climb. More elaborate natural playgrounds include science labs, greenhouses, ponds, dirt trails, trike trails, and mazes and reading amphitheaters.
Custom-designed outdoor learning environments take advantage of the features that already exist within the landscape while incorporating new elements and opportunities for play. Hands-on play with these features involves all of the senses and encourages children to touch, smell, walk and climb.
Wired for Motion
Children are naturally wired to remain in motion, and outdoor learning environments foster physical activity which is the backbone for leading healthy and active lifestyles later as adults. Playing outside also offers exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D, to help support growing bodies. As they explore their outdoor space, youngsters are building cognitive development skills by examining what is available and deciding how to use it.
When playtime puts the focus back on nature it expands a child’s knowledge about the environment while raising consciousness about caring for it. They are spending time in a very special outdoor classroom, and every student has a front-row seat for the lessons.
Children don’t necessarily judge a natural environment just by how it looks. They are more interested in how a natural environment feels and how they can interact with it. Outdoor learning environments with carefully chosen features create a sensory experience that is so entertaining children hardly notice they are learning about the natural world around them while becoming better citizens of the earth.