Children can learn more easily through outdoor exposure. This is because of a variety of reasons. Primarily, the outdoors changes moods. When we go outside, we can appreciate nature and enjoy being in the sun. Even cold days can be enjoyable in their own way, because we have an innate connection to the outdoors. Even if we complain about the heat or sold of a particular day, there still are elements of nature that have the power to make us happier.
Children who are on the autism spectrum also benefit from nature’s tendency to improve mood. When a child is happy, they are more receptive to learning new things. In addition, the outdoors can act as a living textbook for various subjects. For children who may struggle with learning cold facts from a book, nature can illustrate and demonstrate many topics.
Schools recognize these benefits and try to incorporate outdoor learning when they can. Field trips are often used for such purposes and good classroom behavior can be rewarded with class being held outdoors on a sunny day.
While schools recognize the benefits of outdoor learning, parents can leverage the power of nature to incorporate safe backyard activities that instruct their kids.
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How Nature Helps Kids Learn
Kids learn in different ways, but one method is through tactile or kinesthetic learning. In this method, concepts are easier to understand when demonstrated or shown through something that a learner can touch, feel and explore. Science topics are an example of how kinesthetic learning works in the outdoors. Kids can only learn so much about a leaf or an insect from a book. Showing a child how a butterfly creates a cocoon teaches them an important biology lesson of development and evolution. In a book, it’s likely that an illustration would not impress the child so profoundly.
Creativity is also enhanced through outdoor learning. Children can be encouraged to act out scenes from history in an outdoor setting and visual arts such as drawing and painting also take on a richer meaning when done outdoors. Outside, children can combine science, history and art by staging mock archaeological digs using a sandbox.
Backyard learning also can be the basis for understanding safety rules and group behavior. Safety rules are crucial for any outdoor play, but can be especially important for children on the autism spectrum. Encourage rule adherence by asking your children to help develop some of the rules for outdoor play.
Certain Outdoor Activities Support Autistic Learning
When outdoors, some hobbies are perfect learning tools. Gardening is a way for kids to learn science without even knowing it. And children with autism often embrace the repetitive behavior required in gardening. If you are going to explore gardening as a family, invest in some good gardening gloves to make sure that everyone enjoys the hobby. Birdwatching is a scenic backyard family activity that can be beneficial for all children, including those with autism.
Outdoor water activities can also provide an outlet for structured learning and also add a shot of fun to any child’s day. From running through a sprinkler, or learning to swim in a backyard pool, water helps to reinforce rules, too.
Children have long enjoyed learning outdoors. Many schools reward good behavior with some time outdoors, learning under the sun, and few children shy away from such a setting. Through experiential learning, getting up close to subjects and feeling free of the restraints of classroom walls and doors, children on the spectrum can thrive and learn, at home.
Danny is a dad living in Philadelphia. He enjoys DIY projects almost as much as raising his two children. He is the co-creator of FixItDads.com, which offers tips for home improvement projects.