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Nature's Classroom: Learning Outdoors

"I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes."

-E.E. Cummings, Poet-

Activate Learning through Nature

The Influence of nature on learning is demonstrated across the globe. Shining examples are the Scandinavian Forest Schools, the Scottish Forest Schools, BOLD Park School in Adelaide, South Australia and the Woodleigh School, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. These schools demonstrate the profound influence of nature on the intellect and the senses.

The innovative educational approach has reshaped traditional learning paradigms, emphasising the impact of nature pedagogy on children's development.


Nature's Classroom: Forest Schools in Scandinavia and Scotland


Originating from Scandinavia, Forest Schools have gained momentum worldwide, especially in Scotland, where they have revolutionised education by immersing children in natural environments. The schools prioritise outdoor learning, hands-on experiences, and environmental exploration to encourage curiosity and connection with the natural world. Children are trusted to take reasonable risks and test the boundaries of their abilities.

By venturing into nearby forests, woodlands, and green spaces, students engage all their senses, develop essential life skills, and cultivate a deep appreciation for biodiversity and ecological systems. Through activities like shelter-building, fire-lighting, and wildlife observation, children learn resilience, problem-solving, and teamwork. As they do so, they experience health and well-being. Forest Schools have become hubs of environmental education and community engagement, empowering children to become stewards of the environment and active agents of positive change in their communities.


Innovative Pedagogy Down Under: BOLD Park School Adelaide; and the Woodleigh School on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

In Australia, BOLD Park School and the Woodleigh School have adopted these pioneering practices emphasising creativity, collaboration, and experiential learning.

 BOLD Park Community School

The Bold Park Community School Wilderness Playgroup offers a unique opportunity for children and their families to immerse themselves in nature, conducting all activities in an outdoor setting. The nature and outdoor setting of the playgroup challenge parents to trust their children as they navigate risks and acquire lessons from nature. Children engage in imaginative, creative, and scientific play within a nature-rich environment. Whether scaling a hilltop, building dams in flowing creeks, splashing around in mud, or engaging in inventive interactions with natural materials, they develop a lifelong connection with nature.

The Woodleigh School

Modern-day adults remember their experiences outdoors in a safer and friendlier era. They are disappointed their children do not enjoy the same freedom and impromptu learning that develops independence, resilience, leadership, and communication skills. They blame safety concerns, real and imagined, for denying their children these experiences.

In response to this concern, and drawing inspiration from the Forest Schools' model, the Woodleigh Early Childhood Centre at Minimbah Campus introduced its own Nature Program. One day a week, 4-year-old students from the ECC spend their entire day at Minimbah Creek, regardless of the weather. Engaging in activities reminiscent of those experienced by their parents, these students witness remarkable learning outcomes.

While Forest Schools abroad and in Australia operate in different contexts, they share a common goal of transforming education. By harnessing the power of nature and bold pedagogical strategies, these initiatives inspire curiosity, creativity and connection with the natural world.


All Early Learning Centres can Benefit from the Principles of the Forest Schools

Forest Schools' outdoor principles can be integrated into ordinary early learning programs without requiring an infrastructure overhaul. A nature-based approach can create opportunities for outdoor exploration, hands-on experiences, and interdisciplinary inquiry within curricula. Simple changes like nature corners in classrooms, nature walks, and outdoor play, can provide a deeper connection with the natural world and enhance children's learning and development. By embracing creativity, curiosity, and collaboration, ordinary early learning programs can emulate the spirit of innovation and transformative learning laying the foundation for lifelong learning and holistic development.


Ideas to Harness Learning Through Nature

1. Create Nature Corners:
Sensory Garden:

Set up a sensory garden corner for plants with different textures, scents, and colours. Children can explore the garden using their senses, touching, smelling, and observing the plants.


Natural Materials Station:

Dedicate a corner to natural materials such as pinecones, feathers, shells, and tree bark. Provide magnifying glasses and notebooks for children to examine and sketch the natural items. Enrich what is on display with units of inquiry and project work.


2. Organise Nature Walks:


Seasonal Walks:

Plan seasonal nature walks to observe changes in the environment throughout the year. In autumn, focus on fallen leaves and changing colours. In spring, explore budding plants and nesting birds.


Scavenger Hunts:

Create scavenger hunt lists with items to find during nature walks, such as distinct types of leaves, animal tracks, or specific plant species. Encourage children to work together and share their findings.

3. Hands-On Exploration:


Miniature Habitat Construction:

Provide materials like twigs, leaves, and clay to build miniature habitats for insects or small animals. Create shelters, nests, and feeding areas, using creativity and problem-solving skills.


Rock Painting and Storytelling:

Invite children to collect rocks from the outdoor area and paint them with colourful designs. Afterwards, please encourage them to use the painted rocks as story prompts, inventing tales inspired by the patterns and shapes on the rocks.


4. Outdoor Arts and Crafts:


Leaf Mandalas:

Collect fallen leaves from the outdoor area and arrange them in intricate patterns on the ground to create leaf mandalas. This activity promotes creativity and mindfulness as children focus on arranging natural materials.

Nature Collages:

Provide paper, glue, and natural materials like leaves, flowers, and feathers. Encourage children to create collages using natural materials, expressing their creativity and exploring different textures and colours.

5. Science and Environmental Inquiry:

Weather Monitoring Station:

Set up a weather monitoring station in the outdoor area with instruments like thermometers, rain gauges, and windsocks. Children can record daily weather observations and analyse patterns over time.

Bug Investigations:

Provide magnifying glasses, bug jars, and identification guides for children to explore the diversity of insects in the outdoor area. Observe insect behaviour, habitats, and interactions with plants.

6. Promote Health and Well-Being:
Nature Yoga Sessions:

Conduct outdoor yoga sessions where children can practice mindfulness and relaxation surrounded by nature. Incorporate animal-themed yoga poses and breathing exercises to promote physical and mental well-being.


Nature Scavenger Fitness:

Create fitness challenges that combine outdoor exploration with physical activity. Design scavenger hunts with fitness tasks such as jumping over logs, balancing on tree stumps, or climbing hills, encouraging children to stay active while connecting with nature.

7. Foster Environmental Awareness:
Waste Audit and Recycling:

Conduct a waste audit in the school environment, including classrooms, playgrounds, and lunch areas. Discuss the importance of waste reduction and recycling, and involve children in initiatives to compost food scraps, recycle materials, and reduce single-use plastics.


Tree Planting Ceremony:

Organise a tree planting ceremony on the school grounds to commemorate dedicated events or raise awareness about environmental conservation. Involve children in selecting tree species, preparing the planting site, and caring for the trees over time.

8. Parental and Community Engagement:


Family Nature Trails:

Organise family-friendly nature trails and guided walks led by teachers or parent volunteers. Invite families to explore local parks or nature reserves to promote connections between school, home, and the community.

Outdoor Classroom Workshops:

Host outdoor classroom workshops where parents and community members share their expertise in nature-related topics such as gardening, birdwatching, or wildlife conservation. Provide hands-on activities and demonstrations for children and families to participate in together.


9. Interdisciplinary Learning:
Nature-inspired Poetry:

Integrate nature-based poetry into literacy lessons, encouraging children to observe and describe their outdoor experiences through reciting or writing. Haikus are a perfect poetry form for nature topics.

Maths in Nature:

Take maths lessons outdoors and incorporate nature-based activities such as measuring tree heights, estimating leaf sizes, or counting bird sightings. Use natural materials like pinecones and pebbles for hands-on maths activities, reinforcing mathematical concepts in a real-world context.


10. Encourage Exploration and Curiosity:


Outdoor Story Circles:

Create outdoor storytelling circles where children gather to share stories, myths, and legends inspired by nature. Allow them to use their imagination and creativity to invent tales about plants, animals, and natural phenomena.


Nature Journals:

Provide children with nature journals to document their outdoor observations, sketches, and reflections. Encourage regular journaling sessions where children can write or draw their experiences in nature and practice their self-expression.


Connection with nature is a unique learning pathway. 

Lili-Ann Kriegler (B. A Hons, H. Dip. Ed, M.Ed.) is an education consultant and award-winning author of Edu-Chameleon for teachers and Roots and Wings for parents. Lili-Ann’s specialisations are early childhood education (Birth to 9 years), leadership and optimising human thinking and cognition. She runs her consultancy, Kriegler-Education.

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