Outdoor learning is the best type of learning there is. We’ve been lucky to have been able to experience this in 2 opposite climates in the past few years: Portugal and Ireland. At every possible opportunity, we go exploring. Sometimes taking a small side road just to see where it leads, at other times chosing to go for a walk in a more known area such as a forest, natural park, a beach or mountain area.
During our expeditions, we have covered many different topics while learning together (with the help of Google at times!) about things like foraging, history, art, architecture, design and even maths and science. All in nature and all outdoors.
Our learning is led by the natural curiosity my children and I have.
For example the question, “How do you build a tree house?”, turned into us building a shelter in the woods in Sintra, Portugal. As we did this, we discussed the need for different sized branches as well as the need for other materials (in this case giant fern leaves) to make our structure and the need for vines/strong grass to tie it all together. Enthusiastically the boys found ‘furniture’ for our ‘house’ and we ended the day with a hunt for edible plants we could stock our new place with.
Fast forward 18 months and we found ourselves in a forest park in southern Ireland when we stumbled across a small heap of old branches. Immediately the boys decided to build a shelter with these branches. Acting as if they’d been doing this daily for years, they built a shelter by collecting leaves, locating old stumps and stones for furniture, all thoroughly enjoying themselves. They built the shelter in record time and with very little help from me, reminding each other how to do it and working together as a team to get the structure in place. The foraging side was a little more challenging as we very quickly realized that the flora was very different from the one we had encountered in Portugal. Google to the rescue and we learned about indigenous plants in this part of Europe, trying our best to find as many as possible in the forest park.
But outdoor learning is not just about building structures in the woods. Outdoor learning is about having fun and using your imagination, making the world around you a little bit more entertaining.
A long walk along a riverbank suddenly becomes a discussion about the types of fish that may live in the river (11-year-old), which then leads to the story of Loch Ness (9-year-old) and ends with all of us running away from the river dragons (4-year-old).
The river dragon is duly christened ‘Nessie Salmie’ (there’s lots of Salmon around here). When we take a break on the river’s edge, we look up the exact fish living there, their spawning grounds and migration patterns of the freshwater animals (for my 11-year-old). We re-read the story of Loch Ness (for my 9-year-old) and we discuss the possibility of river dragons. My eldest graciously accepts that dragonflies may qualify for that category, a statement that brings the utmost joy to my 4-year-old’s face.
Outdoor learning has also taught us a lot about local history. Many times we have stumbled across abandoned houses, churches, graveyards and other remnants of times gone by. We have discussed who might have lived there and when, and why these places are now abandoned. For the older ones, a ‘real’ explanation is then demanded. This usually means we will research it at home after our expedition and we spend some time creating a small project on the subject.
Learning outdoors is fun and it is also free. Everywhere you step there is something you can learn, be it edible plants, the life cycle of animals or the different uses of natural materials. As I write this, I have a bag full of tuffs of wool we picked up as we walked through the fields in search of a nice place for a picnic. The aim is to find out how to wash the wool and, possibly, find a way to spin it and create yarn.