HoneyKids speaks to Ms Elizabeth Chua, Acting Vice Principal of The Caterpillar’s Cove at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, to get insights on how kids can best benefit from outdoor learning.
Parents, you know how we feel when we say, “We miss playing outdoors!” Remember those days we spent building sandcastles, or digging in the dirt for creepy crawlies? Unfortunately, kids nowadays don’t get as much outdoor time as we did. Instead, many spend their spare time indoors with their TV screens or gadgets, which means loads of littlies are deprived of all the lovely benefits that outdoor learning has to offer.
We spoke to Ms Elizabeth Chua, Acting Vice Principal of The Caterpillar’s Cove at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, to get insights into outdoor learning and how you can be more involved in your child’s outdoor adventures.
Hi Elizabeth! What are some common misconceptions about outdoor learning?
One of the common misconceptions is that children can be more prone to injuries in the outdoors as compared to the indoors as it is more ‘risky’. In addition, some parents and teachers may believe that it is more challenging to manage children outdoors as compared to the indoors.
What are the benefits of outdoor learning?
The benefits are countless – the most important being that outdoor learning supports children’s holistic development. It provides rich, authentic and sensorial experiences that boost their cognitive functioning and conceptual learning. The sounds they hear, the textures they feel as well as the scents and sights they experience form meaningful connections in their brains, which is critical for brain development. Learning outdoors also challenges children to take calculated risks and provokes them to ask questions, nurturing their sense of wonder and curiosity. All that outdoor time also contributes to raising happier and healthier kids with a positive attitude towards learning.
How does outdoor learning affect the lessons learned within classrooms?
As an educator, I always ask fellow colleagues and myself, “What can the children do indoors which can’t be done outdoors?” Learning indoors and outdoors is never in isolation. In fact, they are deeply connected to one another. You’ll see children applying and extending their knowledge and skills from indoor activities to outdoors and vice-versa. For example, a toddler who is engaging in mark making with a crayon on paper indoors may use his or her fingers or sticks to create marks on the sand outdoors.
How can parents help support outdoor learning?
Parents can help by being supportive of schools conducting lessons outdoors. We understand parents’ concerns and are trained to assess outdoor environments to ensure they are safe and suitable for activities. Parents can also encourage their children to engage in more social and interactive experiences outdoors, rather than over-relying on electronic gadgets as a pastime.
What are some ways parents can carry out purposeful play outdoors?
Consider the space chosen for play outdoors. Does it have enough resources? Will it provide sensory-rich experiences for children? Does it have enough space for children to be active? Materials that are open-ended (multiple ways of using, no pre-defined purpose) is always a good start as it encourages different possibilities and kinds of play. If you’re heading to the sandpit, grab some containers and play tools like spades and shovels. Or, if you’re heading out for a picnic, consider bringing a book, bubbles and drawing materials.
Outdoor learning is more than just bringing your kids outdoors! Asking timely guiding questions can also stimulate thinking and deepen a child’s learning experience. Before heading outdoors, ask them a few questions about the outdoors. Next, decide what learning objectives you want to achieve. While exploring the outdoors, take some photos and use them to revisit the experience or learn new words. You could also ask the children what they have learned and use their responses to extend their learning. Most importantly, be present throughout the activities!
What kind of space is suitable and safe for outdoor learning?
It can take place anywhere beyond the confines of walls and in various forms. Outdoor spaces can provide real and concrete learning experiences for children. Through these experiences, they begin to form connections and make meaning of what they are doing. For instance, while at the beach, children can discover that adding water to sand makes the sand clump together, and that they can use wet sand to build objects or structures.
When accessing spaces outdoors, be aware of the hazards involved so that our children can learn and play freely outdoors. In Singapore’s urban landscape, look out for protruding metal pieces, broken equipment or rusty and sharp corners that may not be obvious to children. Is the outdoor space away from traffic? Is the ground free of hazardous materials? Once we ensure the space is free of hazards, we can encourage children to explore freely and reap the benefits of purposeful play outdoors.
Could you suggest some easy outdoor learning activities parents can do with children?
- Lay a blanket on the ground and let your baby lie on it. Point out things in nature that you see.
- Have your baby touch the grass or listen to the trickle of water from the rain. If you have a toddler, let him or her crawl, walk, run and jump about on the grass or touch the water droplets on leaves after the rain.
- Enjoy sand or water play or throw a ball and blow bubbles together.
- Find a nice shady spot and read a book with your child.
- Go on a nature walk! Encourage your children to hunt or spy for things. Play a game where they need to identify leaves of certain textures, shapes or colours. These experiences encourage dialogue and provide meaningful learning experiences for your child.
- Visit play spaces. West Coast Park has various stations with different play experiences, HortPark has a Nature Playgarden and Gardens by the Bay has a lovely play structure with a water play area beside it.
How much time should parents dedicate to outdoor learning?
You can encourage your children to learn and explore daily! However, you need to ensure the weather conditions are suitable for outdoor activities. Keep a close watch on your child to see if they are feeling any discomfort or if the activities conducted are too strenuous. While outdoors, wear comfortable clothing, go out at appropriate timings and keep your child hydrated. Apply sunblock and have children wear a broad-brimmed hat for sun protection. Even a rainy day can provide opportunities for fun, engagement and learning with your children outdoors! Have them put on their raincoats and boots and embrace the light drizzle!
Thank you for the insights and tips on outdoor learning, Elizabeth!
There’s no better way to take our kids’ learning to the next level than by taking them outdoors to play, explore and learn. Get outdoors and play today!
This post is in partnership with ECDA.