Benefits of Outdoor Education, Part 2: Emotional and Social Skills

North American November 10, 2022

In addition to helping students strengthen their brain function and ability in the classroom, outdoor learning helps improve our students’ mental health and social and emotional skills. 

Mental Health

Nature interactions improve our quality of life and offer many benefits not just for our physical health but for mental health as well. Being in nature can reduce stress and anxiety. Research by Williams has found that people who live close to green spaces had a lower incidence of fifteen diseases, including depression and anxiety. Similarly, Capaldi and White have found that people in urban areas have a more positive outlook on life and feel a higher life satisfaction when they are near to nature. Having our students in proximity to nature boosts their mood, especially for those who live in urban areas with not many green spaces. As a result, students develop a desire to come to school because it is a place where they experience joy. The outdoor school becomes an oasis that enhances positive attitudes towards school. 

Another research study conducted in Japan showed that people who walked in woodland areas had lower heart rates and higher heart rate flexibility and reported being in better spirits and more relaxed than others who walked in urban areas. Nature exposure provides gentle, undemanding stimuli. It encourages soft focus, permitting our brains to wander and rest. It creates a reflective mode that reduces stress and mental fatigue in our brains. Kaplan found that this effect continues even when we go indoors. Spending time in natural spaces soothes our minds and has lasting stress relief effects. It also restores our ability to focus and relieves mental fatigue created by work overload or overstimulating technology. 

Social and Emotional Skills 

Research has also found that outdoor education supports children’s self-efficacy, social connections, and leadership skills. Richmond and his co-authors note that one outcome from outdoor education is that confidence and leadership skills increase when students take on leadership roles in collaborative projects. These projects also promote decision-making skills and communication skills among peers. Exploring and learning outdoors builds lasting teamwork skills and boosts communication and listening skills. 

In addition, outdoor education boosts self-confidence and creativity, as Barton has noted. Nature-specific outdoor learning increases student engagement as they take ownership of their learning. It develops a strong sense of perseverance when facing complex challenges and seeing them as opportunities for growth despite the struggles.

Outdoor time also fosters social development. A recent article in Frontiers of Psychology notes that prosocial conduct is associated with exposure to the sense of wonder and awe encountered in nature. Similarly, spending time in nature with friends and family creates deeper bonds, solidarity, and social networks. Our sensitivity to others increases in shared nature spaces that enhance social connections. 

Author

Ivonne Bisonó was born in New York and raised on the island of Puerto Rico. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. Ivonne is an SDA multigrade teacher in Illinois and currently pursuing a Master's degree in Outdoor Education at Southern University. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her family.

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