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.
Outdoor Learning Environments extend the classroom into the outdoors where children can play with and among natural elements such as sand, water and living plants. These natural playgrounds give children the opportunity to learn through cause and effect the impact they have on their immediate surroundings and the environment as a whole. Through natural learning, the outdoor classroom enhances and reinforces the lessons students learn in every subject from math to the arts.
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 behavior development is well documented with evidence supporting benefits such as improved recall of information, creative problem solving and increased creativity among children. Finally, there is strong evidence to support that natural playgrounds have academic benefits because outdoor play fosters a sense of wonder that serves as a motivator for life long learning.
Outdoor Learning Environments come in many different configurations depending upon the school, the community, the climate and resources available. They range from vegetable gardens, to slides built into grass hills, to stages where pretend play capitalizes on natural surroundings to stimulate young minds. More elaborate natural playgrounds include science labs, greenhouses, ponds, dirt trails, trike trails and mazes and reading amphitheaters. They often include local plants and boulders, contributing to the authenticity of the natural environment. These outdoor classrooms function as play areas on their own or as additions to traditional physically challenging stand alone play structures such as overhead ladders, ring mazes, and climbing walls.
And while Outdoor Learning Environments are custom built, they all require one essential ingredient to be successful: imagination. Imagination is a gift inherent in the minds of young children and one that will be challenged and even questioned as they grow in this age of modern technology. Outdoor Learn Environments fosters and nurtures this precious gift by supplementing traditional learning with natural learning, creating a curriculum that goes far beyond what young children learn from a textbook.