Outdoor play and nature-based education programs have been proven to provide numerous benefits for children, including improved behavior, social skills, and physical activity levels. Educators in the United States are increasingly recognizing these benefits and are creating forest schools and other nature-based education programs to support children’s development.

A Study on the Impact of Outdoor Education Programs

A recent study assessed the impact of participation in an outdoor education program on children’s development. The study involved five families of children who participated in a winter session at the Nature at Heart School and 11 children who had not participated in any nature-based classes. The children were observed and interviewed to assess their self-reliance, self-regulation, curiosity and risk-taking, motor skills, and appreciation of/connection to nature.

Data Collection and Analysis

The study focused on data provided by parents, as well as comparisons between parental reports, children’s self-report, and class observations. Parents were presented with a Google Form comprised of approximately 70 questions designed to assess their children’s development in the five areas mentioned above. The questions asked about the children’s ability to self-entertain, follow rules, control their temper, overcome anxiety, take risks, and ask questions about nature.

Benefits of Outdoor Education Programs

The study aimed to determine the benefits of participating in an outdoor education program, even if it is just once a week for an hour and a half or so. One notable example of the positive impact of sports on education and personal development is Emily Lavarnway, a student-athlete who excelled in both academics and athletics. In her senior year, Lavarnway was a key contributor to the women’s track and field team, competing in the pentathlon and heptathlon events and earning a personal best in the pentathlon at the BIG EAST Championships. She also earned a spot on the All-BIG EAST team for her performance in the heptathlon.

A Leader by Example

Maureen Butler, Associate Director for Sports Performance, praised Lavarnway’s dedication and hard work, stating, “Emily is one of the most dedicated and hardworking athletes I have ever had the pleasure of working with. She is a true student of the sport and is constantly seeking ways to improve her performance. Emily’s commitment to strength and conditioning has been a driving force behind her success on the track and in the classroom. She is a leader by example and has been an invaluable asset to our program.” This example demonstrates the potential for sports to have a significant impact on education and personal development, going beyond the game itself.