Isy Brosius: Taking Kids Outside

Can play-time double as schooling? Well, yes it can, and it is even more beneficial to children’s growth and development than you could imagine.

Experiential learning: a term that is really not as complex as it sounds, and when applied to kids, it really just involves a lot of play-time. Extremely active children with low attention spans  have a difficult time remaining still and focusing on something for too long. Therefore, it’s unfair to require them to sit still in a chair at a desk for hours on end. This explains, if you were to ask a child what their favorite part of their typical school day is, they would probably answer with overwhelming excitement, “Recess!” In a traditional indoor classroom setting, recess is the only time of the day where kids are able to go outside and play freely; when they are actually allowed to be kids.

Like most kids, when I was little I absolutely loved to play outside: making mud pies, building forts, and running around with my neighbors were some of my favorite pass-times. Nineteen years later, I have the pleasure of watching my two little brothers grow up, and without a doubt, they love to play outside just as much as I once did. They’re active kids that crave time to be wild and free, but they are only awarded the opportunity to act crazily outdoors. Inside, they like many other children, are expected to be “well behaved,” which is code for quieter, and much more still. This allows for little to no exploration, meaning that little to no learning is happening indoors unless it is prompted.

Curiosity is created in the outdoors. It is when kids explore the outdoors that they question their surroundings, and therefore are more engaged in their environment. David Sobel, an expert on the forest school model, says that this type of discovery is critical to children’s development. Outside, kids are able to come to their own conclusions, instead of being fed information in a conventional indoor classroom.

Earlier this week, I witnessed this type of inquiry that Sobel discusses in his book, Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergarten: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning, at a forest kindergarten called “Learning Outside,” located in Carrboro, North Carolina. At the forest kindergarten, I was able to chat with the director about the general forest school approach. She claimed that the most important aspect of this particular type of schooling was to avoid asking “yes,” or “no” questions in order to force children to learn to make their own judgements and better articulate their thoughts. Outside of the conventional indoor classroom, kids can take part in their individual learning process through exploration and discovery.

Quite similarly, CNN journalist Dana Sand discusses about the benefits of experiential learning.  In her article, she writes about an art museum, the High Museum of Art, in Atlanta, Georgia, that opened its doors one day for students from the Galloway School, a private institution with students ranging from ages three to eighteen. After the students from the Galloway School had their field trip, Sand interviewed one fifteen-year-old about his experience on the trip, and her findings were concurrent with our group’s opinions and research on experiential learning. During the interview the boy, Alexander Nieves, said that, “The main idea of school is to prepare someone for life, and the best way to do that is to not have the same environment. Experimenting with different environments gives students a sense of a new area and working and learning in different ways…Variety… nourishes the learning process.” From Nieves’ quote, we learned that experiential learning is applicable to all ages: from kindergarteners to college students. Everyone can benefit from real-world involvement that allow students to experience thought-provoking conversations, lessons, and interactions. Because the field trip was available to such a wide range of student ages and personality types, it proves that everyone can gain valuable knowledge that will help further their growth, as both as a student and person, that would not have been exposed to them in a conventional classroom setting.

Experiential learning is so special because it gives elementary schools the opportunity to turn recess into a full day activity. By incorporating lessons and valuable skills during play time, kids can learn in a creative, comfortable environment.