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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

The Big Question: Outdoor Education

Should outdoor education be a top priority in public schools?

by: Julie Beer

Outdoor ed is often sacrificed when budget constraints–and pressure to perform on standardized tests–force schools to trim the curriculum.

Yes In today's schools, recesses are cancelled and virtual reality is promoted rather than experiences that get children's hands dirty and feet wet. But study after study indicates that kids learn everything better when they get out of the classroom. Inside, children use two or three senses–but outside, they're stimulating all of their senses at once. Research shows that outdoor learning boosts cooperative play and creativity and improves cognitive function; in a recent California study, students raised their science test scores 27 percent when they were taught outside. And if students do better on tests, that will mean more school funding. Kids can learn about recycling and global warming in the classroom, but information is not as important as a real experience in nature.
Richard Louv
Author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

No My school falls under California's school improvement program. If we don't meet certain state and federal mandates, we could lose our funding and ultimately have to close our doors. Clearly, we have bigger worries than outdoor ed. Our first priority is to teach our kids reading, writing, and math skills. Of course, music, sports, and outdoor education help children develop. But considering budget restrictions, I believe if we can give kids the tools they need to be successful financially, then the rest will follow. We know teaching outdoors helps children learn, and we incorporate it when we can. But given the limited resources we have to teach the fundamentals, direct instruction often works best. That's just our reality.
Sherry Devine
Principal, McKinley Elementary School - Petaluma, CA

Your View
Yes 79%
No 21%
Results of a Poll

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Jan 13, 2009

A kid may have excellent mental preparation with only nominal physical preparation. Obesity in America is a real problem, and proper physical education may be the answer. Elementary school is an ideal place to instruct children on the proper care and maintenance of their body, a.k.a. physical education, which includes outdoor experiences. Truly, children need to become well acquainted with mathematics, language, and science, but if they are trained by the academic institution to sit at a desk all day, and die at 30 years old from heart failure how much was their education really worth?

Laurie Kozofsky
Nov 19, 2008

In my school disrict in sububia Long Island, New York where funds are strapped but outdoor education is a big priority in our Physical Education classes. It does not take a lot of money to enjoy the outdoors on campus. We teach basic orienteering skills for hiking, camping/backpacking and MT. Biking. We hike to our local park and practice on our school grounds. Students love the outdoors as a form of physical fitness and to promote lifetime recreation. Just be creative! Our kids love it!

Nov 14, 2008

In my experience in suburban schools and in outdoor education, I think that not only does Outdoor Education transcend simply Physical Education by going into other subjects such as science, English, and art, but Physical Education along with music and art are an integral part of a students well being. Only teaching math and reading to students does not help them compete in a global economy. It is the foundation, but certainly not the end-all-be-all of education. It is these "costly" activities that invest so much in students.
Furthermore, the understanding and value that Outdoor Education places on our natural world is immensely important to everyone, most especially young students education. I think it is nearly evident that our natural world is drastically changing for the worse because of humans. Through education and especially Outdoor Education, we can be successful financially AND ecologically.

Oct 29, 2008

I fully agree with the post by Principal Sherry Devine of Petaluma, CA, in that the public schools in California need to get back to laser focused attention on the basics of education.

"Outdoor Ed" would fall under the Physical Education Department. That entire department should be scrapped until the classes that will benefit kids for their ENTIRE lives are restored to help them compete with our job losses to China, India, and other lower wage countries. As it is, while Asian kids are reaping the benefit of serious education, our State countinues to fund such critical "educational" classes such as golf, jogging, "mid night basketball," and other dreamy classes designed to keep the PE teachers in a job rather than prepare our kids for future jobs.

We need to fund math, science, languages, and information technology programs. "Outdoor Ed" would be great IF our country and State could afford it. But, despite 90% of California residents driving, California doesn't even require "Drivers Ed" or "Drivers Training" any longer..... and the accident rates of the State demonstrate the result.

Teaching kids about the outdoors, unfortunately, has to be left out for now. They need to be able to READ a map and READ trail guides, etc., before they learn anything else.


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