Outdoor Learning Crucial for Child Development

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Our branding process involves taking the time to really get to know and understand our client’s philosophy and culture. During a recent rebrand of the Little Angels Nursery Group, we discovered that their approach to education was inspired by a very interesting and increasingly popular Scandinavian approach to early learning.

The rise of Scandinavian inspired forest schools and nurseries are increasing in the UK and across the world. The importance of outdoor learning and children connecting with nature has risen since extensive research of its benefit to children’s overall health. First developed in Denmark in the 1950s, forest education involves teaching children outdoors, usually in woodlands, through play and hands on exercises. This method of schooling has since surged with more research and understanding of what the key psychological and physical benefits from outdoor learning provides.

Over particularly the last four years, a wealth of research has shown that spending time in natural spaces has many health and psychological benefits for children, such as reduced obesity, improved mental wellbeing, increased resilience, and faster cognitive development. It can also encourage the development of environmentally conscious behaviour by fostering an appreciation and respect for the natural world.

Aki Sinkkonen, at Natural Resources Institute Finland, led the work behind one of the first initial studies that uncovered the link between children’s wellbeing and how the outdoors improves their immune systems in 2020. The study involved 75 children in two cities in Finland, a relatively small number for a trial. Although the numbers for this trial was on a small-scale, the results were considerably strong, leading to a compelling consensus that learning outdoors reaps incredible health benefits for children. Children attending forest schools in trials has shown to be crucial and beneficial to their overall health to help fight diseases such as asthma, eczema, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune disease, and allergies.

Since then, more extensive trials have undergone and only strengthened this consensus that biodiversity intervention enhances immune regulation and health associated commensal microbiota among day care children. A Finnish study in 2023 found that playing in grass and forest undergrowth, such as heather and blueberry planted in nursery yards at four-day care centres, boosted the immune systems of three to five-year-old children within 28 days.

With the trials showcasing a brilliant demonstration of the many key psychological benefits of outdoor learning, the other key benefits seen by researchers are improvements in behaviour, social skills, self-control, increased resilience, and assertiveness. A notable aspect of cognitive development among children who take part in outdoor learning is a sense of responsibility towards local spaces. Therefore, these children will understand the importance of recycling, respect nature and in the future protect nature and fight climate change.

Although forest schools are rising in popularity, according to the World Bank, 56% of the world’s population now lives in densely populated urban areas. At this point in time, experts say children growing up in cities are not excluded necessarily from the benefits of outdoor education. However, biodiversity in a city is never going to be as rich as in the forest – but it’s still important.

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