Indoors and outdoors, learning and development happens within the context of relationships among children, families, educators, and their environments (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 6). Click on the words below to reveal more information about how children, families, educators and the environment influence children.
When children are outdoors they have many opportunities to demonstrate that they are competent and capable of complex thinking. Curiosity triggers children’s thinking and the natural world offers them time, space and environments that lead them to think and wonder. Even though children come from diverse social, cultural and linguistic families, they benefit from feeling that they belong outdoors and can be successful in the experiences they have with nature. From infants to school age children, they can feel successful in their interactions with the outdoor world.
Every family has different experiences with outdoor play and learning. Each family is composed of individuals who are competent, capable, curious, and rich in experience. Each family wants the best for their children. When families understand the relationship of outdoor play to children’s learning, development, health, and well-being, they support increasing opportunities and experiences. Knowing that families bring diverse social, cultural, and linguistic perspectives, the value of outdoor play on learning and development can be shared in ways that are relevant and experiential for families. “Families should feel that they belong, are valuable contributors to their children’s learning, and deserve to be engaged in a meaningful way” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014. p. 7).
Educators too are competent and capable, curious, and rich in experience. While not all educators have experience with outdoor play and learning, because they are knowledgeable, caring, reflective, and resourceful, they seek ways to develop professionally. Knowing the importance of nature in the lives of children, educators “collaborate with others to create engaging environments and experiences to foster children’s learning and development. Educators are lifelong learners. They take responsibility for their own learning and make decisions about ways to integrate knowledge from theory, research, their own experience, and their understanding of the individual children and families they work with. Every educator should feel he or she belongs, is a valuable contributor, and deserves the opportunity to engage in meaningful work” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 7).
A pedagogical approach that supports learning and development involves providing inclusive learning environments and experiences that encourage exploration, play, and inquiry. Outdoor spaces invite children to investigate, imagine, think, create, solve problems, and make meaning from their experiences – especially when the spaces contain interesting and complex open-ended materials (such as loose parts) that children can use in many ways. When the environment supports children’s growing autonomy and independence, challenging behaviours are reduced and educators can focus more fully on observing, interacting, and extending children’s learning and development in meaningful ways (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 14).
The basic premise of place-based education is that children learn when they are engaged in the actual environment that they are learning about. If children are learning about worms, connecting the learning to a place in their own community increases the relevance of the learning to their own lives.