The Benefits of Time Outdoors
Many people are pleasantly surprised to learn that Waldorf students spend a great deal of time outdoors. While this is especially true of Waldorf preschool and kindergarten programs, all of our classes are outside multiple times each day as part of the curriculum, in additional to their recess breaks. Photos from one of our kindergarten classes are included below:
There are many reasons to bring children out into nature including to give them an opportunity to play with “natural toys” such as sticks, pine cones, acorns and tree bark, an opportunity to breathe fresh air, witness the marvels of the natural world, increase the child’s power of observation and to calm them and to work out extra energy.
Waldorf teachers in early childhood and elementary grades offer both indoor and outdoor free play time. Free play is play that is not directly lead or organized by a teacher. When children spend time outdoors, they find creative things to do utilizing the natural “toys” around them. This fosters creative imagination.
BUILDS PHYSICAL RESILIENCE
When children are left free to create, it is remarkable to witness the elaborate macro-structures they build, such as debris shelters, teepees, and boats using fallen tree branches and tree limbs found in the woods. These creations are large enough for whole classes to be inside and explore. When they build with fallen trees or limbs, the children are using gross-motor movements and muscles, are working hard and are generally in collaboration with classmates, which fosters communication, flexibility in thinking, teamwork and problem solving. One of the benefits of this type of hard work is that it build “will-forces”, the ability to “stick with it” when faced with challenges, a skill that serves our students for the rest of their lives.
STRENGTHENS PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
Breathing fresh air, especially in a forest or by a beach, has health benefits. In the article entitled “Here's Why a Walk in The Woods or a Dip in The Ocean Is So Great For Your Health”, authors Jeffrey Craig and Susan L.Prescott explain that we breathe in beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils and negatively-charged ions, ions which may influence mental outlook in beneficial ways, whenever we are in forests or by bodies of water, which increases our physical and mental well-being. They even went so far as to say, “There is increasing evidence that we can help shape our children’s mental and physical health by exposing them to more green environments as they work, rest and play.”
Any teacher who has spent time with their students in the woods will tell you that there is something healing about being in nature. Anxious children are often calmed after even a brief time in a forest or on a long walk.
LEARN THROUGH OBSERVATION
We want to help our children become observers because seeing is one way people learn. Being in nature provides children, (and adults), wonderful opportunities to pay attention and to notice. When children discover something for themselves, it is amazing and memorable.
When children often spend time in nature, they begin to notice changes in their surrounds that happen with the change of seasons, for example, or the change in light depending on the time of day or angle of the sun. It is truly a magical experience to observe a child who spies a dew-covered spider web catching the early rays of the sun or who is so moved upon finding a tiny, young salamander, they weep.
NATURE HAS A CALMING EFFECT
Natural environments offer us a chance to relax and recover from noise and to witness the awe of nature and witness beauty. We walk in the woods everyday using some of their exuberant energy in a positive way.
Many Waldorf early childhood classes begin the day with time outside, and some schools have added a “Nature Kindergarten” or “Forest Kindergarten”. Starting the day outside allows the children, especially the boys who are more often diagnosed as hyperactive, to use up some of their excess energy and to feel settled within their bodies. When these classes then go inside, the children seem more comfortable focusing on the tasks at hand.
Learn more about Halton Waldorf School and explore our outdoors learning: