What are the Benefits of Outdoor Education?

Are there benefits to engaging in outdoor education? Robust evidence suggests that it helps students remember what they are learning and develop executive functions.

When it comes to outdoor education, I have struggled as a teacher. I tend to find excuses for staying inside, but then I feel guilty and try to make up for it. Ultimately, every year I have to remind myself of the plethora of robust evidence that says “outdoor learning is best.”

What is outdoor education? “Is the organized effort of learning and studying biotic and abiotic aspects of the environment in an outdoor setting that is free of anthropogenic impacts.” (Fang, et al., 2023)

Nature offers an incredible learning tool available to us throughout the year. Furthermore, it’s free! As parents or teachers teach using nature, we provide opportunities for children to explore, ask questions, and learn not just about the world around them but also about themselves. Engaging with nature and using its resources to teach resonates with children of all ages – so why not use it more?

There are numerous powerful benefits to teaching nature. For starters, interacting with nature is filled with mystery, action, and awe, ideally suited to captivating children’s curiosity. We can use the natural world to help children connect abstract ideas and concepts to real-world examples (Ramirez-Andreotta, et. al., 2016). For example, teaching about the importance of soil can be enhanced by visiting different soil profiles and testing their contents. This, of course, requires digging, observing, and contrasting.

Nature also creates an engaging platform for multisensory learning, making it even easier for children to remember core principles. This type of learning activates various brain areas fostering neurodiverse retention. Children can observe animals in their backyard, which provides insights into animal behavior, or track how seasonal changes affect the trees and bushes they walk past. With long-lasting memories of sensory experiences, children cultivate the essential foundation for identifying, organizing, and processing information. Wouldn’t we want that for all children?

Teaching through nature also leads to developing the fundamental skill known as the ‘inhibitory factor’ part of executive function, as natural changes are not instant. Developing the ability to wait will serve children throughout their lives.

Challenges of Outdoor Education

Outdoor education hasn’t garnered enough traction in American schools despite its documented benefits for three reasons.

First, our field has historically used the terms environmental education and outdoor education interchangeably. Environmental education promotes “the complex interrelationships between human culture and ecosystems.” In contrast, outdoor education focuses on connecting curricula and the outdoors.

Secondly, outdoor education is not included in most teacher education programs. Consequently, novice teachers often feel unsure about how to incorporate the outdoors. Similarly, the lack of exposure during their teacher training implicitly undermined the value.

Thirdly, engaging in outdoor education requires consistency, as children’s behaviors are often unproductive due to the infrequency of going outdoors to learn. Behavioral challenges discourage many teachers because they feel unproductive and that children aren’t learning anything new.

How to Incorporate Outdoor Education into the Curricula

Science education should not be the one exclusively taking advantage of nature (Toubiana, L., & Media, G. S., 2014). Outdoor education is appropriate in all subjects. In what ways can outdoor education be incorporated? Below I share a few ideas for incorporating nature.

Exploration: The outdoors is a great “field trip.” Create an opportunity for unstructured time. Children will play, observe, and develop curiosity.

Science: Use nature materials in place of purchasing plastic. For example, students can build a structure using sticks, rocks, and dirt and then diagram the forces acting on it.

Playing: Nature provides an excellent context for open play.

Social Skills: Outdoor learning fosters communication and conflict resolution since activities involve teamwork. These conflicts and conversations provide opportunities that require children to deal with socio-emotional aspects of self-regulation and social conventions (Stedman, 2002).

If you fear using the outdoors as your teaching environment, practice. Conduct regular lessons outside. Then, ask the children what outdoor lessons they can do outside related to the topic. I promise you that the children will guide you.

Remember Maria Montessori’s words, follow the child. Nonetheless, planning ahead of time will help you feel successful and foster diving deeper into learning. Use this homeschool planner to plan your weekly activities.

Go try teaching outdoors, and let us know about your experience.


Fang, W.T., Hassan, A., & LePage, B. (2023). The Living Environmental Education, Sustainable Development Goal Series.

Ramirez-Andreotta, M. D., Brusseau, M. L., Artiola, J. F., Maier, R. M. & Gandolfi, A. J. (2016). Environmental science and toxicology activities in a problem-based learning program. School Science and Mathematics, 116(3), 122-134.

Oetting, A. I. (2015). Making the case for outdoor education. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 31(1), 63-72.

Stedman, R. C. (2002). Toward a social psychology of place: Predicting behavior from place-based cognitions, attitude, and identity. Environment and Behavior, 34(5), 561–581.

Toubiana, L., & Media, G. S. (2014). Outdoor science experiments as a context for learning. The Journal of Educational Research, 107(5), 413–420.

Swan, K., Akins, L., & Hagenah, S. (2019). Environmental education through outdoor learning. Education Sciences, 9(2), 90.

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Reizelie is a parent and a Ph.D. mom trained in science education with a passion for all things STEM. She loves learning and teaching and on her spare time she helps families create home environments that foster learning. Reizelie is committed to a healthy lifestyle and shares ideas on education, cooking, urban homesteading, and fitness.

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