The school holidays are here, which means playtime and fun times for your child and their friends! We hope you’ve scheduled some much-needed outdoor playtime for your child, alongside all the indoor activities they’ll be doing.
In addition to getting fresh air and interacting with nature, there are numerous other ways that outdoor play – and learning – will benefit your child. Today, My First Skool sits down with Ms. Phang Shu Ann, the Programme Architect of Outdoor School Singapore, for a discussion on outdoor learning – and why it’s the perfect complement to a structured indoor curriculum. Outdoor School Singapore by SEED Institute works with schools, parents and organisations across Singapore to extend children’s learning beyond classrooms – and into fun outdoor nature spaces!
My First Skool: Can you tell us, what exactly is outdoor learning?
Shu Ann: Outdoor learning consists of learning that takes place in an outdoor environment. This is essential for young children, as it encourages them to interact with the elements around us – giving children a better understanding of the world we live in.
My First Skool: What are the key benefits of outdoor learning?
Shu Ann: The key benefits are the development of social-emotional, cognitive and physical skills, as well as a broad discovery of the world around them – which helps children to gain an appreciation for nature. Very importantly, children develop a sense of resilience, as they uncover how to overcome obstacles and challenges in the natural environment.
What’s also great about an outdoor environment is that children feel a high level of freedom to explore. The environment gives them a sense of autonomy to freely explore, wonder, make conclusions and learn at their own pace. They learn about independence, decision-making, self and social awareness, and the importance of the world around them.
My First Skool: What type of skills do children develop from outdoor learning?
Shu Ann: Self-esteem, confidence, empathy and self-regulation, just to name a few. These are essential life skills as they help to build resilience in children – and are crucial in the years ahead, as these life skills can be transferred to different aspects of their lives.
My First Skool: How does outdoor learning supplement indoor/structured learning?
Shu Ann: While some aspects of skills are best learnt in structured, indoor settings, other abilities are better developed through unstructured outdoor learning.
For example, outdoor play encourages children to utilise all aspects of movement, including walking, running, crawling and jumping. The more your child uses these abilities, the better developed their motor skills will be in future – improving their ability to balance, coordinate and control their bodies.
What’s more, children who spend more time exploring the natural world outdoors, naturally develop an inclination and curiosity towards the world around them. Establishing this strong relationship between nature and themselves allows children to better appreciate the world they are living in. As they grow up, these children feel a greater sense of responsibility towards nature, the environment and their surroundings in general.
Also, while playing outdoors, children investigate objects and materials using all their senses – and are interested in finding out what things are, how they work, and why they happen.
Through observations and simple investigations, children are able to identify key features of living things, objects and events – and discover the similarities and differences between things, such as textures, colours, shapes, and more.
When practised in conjunction with structured indoor learning, children can get the best of both worlds – and develop to their fullest potential.
Child learning knot tying and shelter building at Labrador Nature Reserve. Image Courtesy of Outdoor School Singapore
My First Skool: Are there risks and challenges involved with outdoor learning?
Shu Ann: As there is a little more uncertainty in outdoor environments (compared to indoor spaces), risk assessments need to be conducted before children use the space. But uncertainty isn’t necessarily a bad thing – challenges such as these mean that children get opportunities to learn how to adapt to situations and overcome hurdles that come their way.
In an outdoor learning environment, children will need to acknowledge and overcome any uncertain feelings they may have – like fear, hesitation or tiredness – if they want to keep their outdoor adventures going. By practising how to manage their feelings and thoughts, children develop resilience and confidence in their abilities – and find it easier and easier to manage their emotions whenever similar challenges show up.
Outdoor Learning at NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool
At NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool, we believe that physical activities and sensory motor experiences are essential elements in the early development of a child’s brain. These experiences inculcate good habits, build up children’s physical fitness, and prepare them for a physically active life as they grow up.
Guided by caring teachers, children learn how to control and coordinate their movements – using their body to walk, run, jump, throw, bend up, catch, cut and thread (among other activities). Children find joy in movement, and this mindset lays a positive foundation for them to continue their healthy, active lifestyles.
That’s why at My First Skool, outdoor play and learning – via highly engaging and enriching activities – are always an important element of our holistic curriculum.
Building gardens in our schools
It gets even better! Children attending My First Skool at various locations – whether at HDB void decks, shopping malls, or standalone centres – now have even more opportunities to interact with nature.
Currently, over 30 My First Skool centres have developed Community in Bloom (CIB) programmes, with input from the National Parks Board (NParks). Our goal is to have a CIB garden in all our preschool centres soon – so all our children can benefit from the joy of outdoor play!
My First Skool at 6 Segar Road (Bukit Panjang)
There’s more good news for parents and children living near Bukit Panjang. My First Skool at 6 Segar Road (situated beside Zhenghua Nature Park) offers nature learning as a curriculum highlight – giving children at the centre the ability to experience the fun of learning about their natural environment in engaging outdoor learning lessons.