Developing the Wellbeing of Children Through Outdoor Learning

Picture of Calum


International Primary Teacher and Outdoor Learning Specialist, with over ten years experience. I hold an MSc in Outdoor Education and PGDE in Primary Education.

In today’s blog post, I’ll discuss the importance of children getting the opportunity to be in outdoor environments and how this helps with mental well-being and soothes those with neurological challenges, including ADHD.


Nature Deficit Disorder

Louv (2008) highlights that children spend less unstructured time in nature. The paper concludes that this impacts children’s mental and physical well-being, and refers to this phenomenon as a nature deficit disorder. Much research has been conducted on how the growing disconnect between humans and nature impacts our psychological well-being (Berger and McLeod, 2006). Many children do not access outdoor environments regularly and efficiently these days (O’Brien, 2009). Parents may have busy working schedules, or children may live in urban areas. Culture in the UK is becoming more risk-averse, and there is a fear that children may be at risk of harm in outdoor areas (O’Brien, 2009). Therefore, outdoor learning experiences may offer some children their only meaningful experiences in forested areas. Allowing children to participate in an outdoor learning experience could be significant in helping them develop their confidence in outdoor environments in their later lives (Dean, 2019).


Learning to measure and connecting with nature.


While delivering outdoor learning lessons, I often find that many children are interested in nature. Mannion et al. (2013) state that Outdoor Learning is significant in a child’s continued development in their admiration for nature. During Outdoor Learning sessions, children learn about the local flora and fauna and are encouraged to care for and respect the environment. Mannion et al. (2013) further highlight the importance of children being able to touch and interact with wildlife, building a connection between themselves and nature. As previously noted in my blog post, Sustainability Education and Outdoor Learning, developing connections between children and nature can impact their sustainability and environmental behaviour in the future.


Finding special stones and keeping them in a magic nature box.


Nature as Therapy

Berger and Tiry (2012) state that modern life has reduced humans’ connections with the environment and others. These connections are integral to our happiness and the ability to feel more complete. A feeling of belonging in an environment and a community helps develop an individual’s sense of self and emotional and mental well-being. The paper further discusses the benefits of individuals finding peace from the busyness of the world around us. Outdoor Learning sessions can encourage these connections with the community and allow participants to find a personal connection with nature through activities such as quiet spots, where participants find a special place to develop a sense of ownership and can be alone. Nature has been used as a therapeutic setting since ancient times.


Connecting with the local wildlife.


ADHD and Outdoor Learning

Within the context of my work, I teach children with ADHD. Natural environments are reported to be an effective learning environment for students who experience overstimulation. Open spaces offer children with ADHD a calmer working environment (Harris, 2017). While observing children with ADHD, I have noticed that they find it easier to focus when completing tasks that involve repetitive and simple kinaesthetic movements, such as carving or building tasks. Combining these activities with an outdoor environment where children are allowed space and are not subjected to overstimulation leads to deeper concentration.


Making a pile of good sticks for wand making.


A carving activity such as making a wand is a multilayered learning experience in which the participants are involved in the process from start to finish, from selecting the material to carving the wand and ending with a finished product, giving them complete personal ownership. While completing a focused activity such as carving in a natural environment, the participants may find it easier to stay present, allowing them to observe the surrounding sounds, smells and features (MacEachern, 2013).


Finished carved, sanded and decorated wands.

Thank you for reading my blog post, and please stay tuned for the next one.


Related Blogs

What Is Outdoor Learning?

Making Sustainability Connections Through Outdoor Learning

The Importance of Outdoor Play



Berger, R. and McLeod, J. (2006). Incorporating nature into therapy: A framework for practice. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 25(2), 80–94.

Berger, R. and Tiry, M. (2012). The enchanting forest and the healing sand—Nature therapy with people coping with psychiatric difficulties. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 39(5), 412–416.

Dean, S. (2019). Seeing the Forest and the Trees: A Historical and Conceptual Look at Danish Forest Schools. International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 6(3), 53–63.

Harris, F. (2017). The nature of learning at forest school: practitioners’ perspectives. Education 3-13, 45(2), 272–291.

Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature deficit disorder: Algonquin Books.

Mannion, G., Fenwick, A. and Lynch, J. (2013). Place-responsive pedagogy: learning from teachers’ experiences of excursions in nature. Environmental Education Research,19(6), 792–809.

MacEachren, Z. (2013). The Canadian forest school movement. Learning Landscapes, 7(1), 219-233.