Outdoor Classrooms are Combating the Negative Impacts of Technology

Written by Talia Choudhary

As technology advances, it consumes our lives more and more, and this increased usage has several negative impacts. Spending excessive time indoors and in front of a screen poses long-term threats to our health; it is associated with high blood pressure, hypertension, mood disorders and sleeping disorders. Technology usage is increasingly common in schools, which facilitates the development of these negative impacts in youth. Fortunately, there is a solution to this – outdoor classrooms! They provide a unique solution to this problem, giving children the chance to learn while decreasing technology usage and also developing a healthy relationship with the environment. 

Many schools across Halton have recognized the benefits of adding outdoor learning spaces to their campuses. Pilgrim Wood Public School is an exceptional example. Established in 2013, Pilgrim Wood’s garden grows seasonal produce and pollinator plants. The outdoor classroom has become a wonderful and enriching environment for students to learn and thrive. 

Sarah Lowes, a French immersion teacher at Pilgrim Wood, with a deep passion for the environment, hopes that outdoor classrooms will become a more widespread practice in schools. She developed her interest in outdoor learning spaces during her time at the University of Toronto.

“When I was doing my master’s degree, I helped start a gardening group that advocated for learning gardens in universities. Once I started teaching at Pilgrim Wood, I already had first-hand knowledge of the benefits of outdoor learning spaces, so I submitted a proposal to build one here.” 

She also shared that she has noticed a significant difference in her students’ behavior while spending time in the outdoor classroom. 

“The students are always excited to go outside and constantly ask to go into the garden, so there’s definitely a lot of energy and interest in that regard. I find that when they are outside, students with lots of energy can divert that energy into productive activities, which I think is a very positive thing.” 

Besides behavioral improvements, outdoor classrooms are associated with a myriad of physical and mental health benefits. By spending time outside, students can get increased vitamin D and lower blood pressure levels. It also reduces anxiety, improves eyesight and relieves neck and shoulder tension from looking at computers. 

Lowes hopes schools will realize that there are several ways to fund this type of school project, rather than solely from school budgets or fundraising by Parent Councils. There are many grants available to schools and other ways to raise money or receive in-kind donations.

“Pilgrim Wood got support from many grants, such as TD Friends of The Environment and the Halton Learning Foundation. As a school, we are also able to fund our yearly garden expenses through a fundraiser where we sell compost bags to people in the community” 

The students of Pilgrim Wood really enjoy the outdoor classroom, and benefit from unique opportunities it gives them. From raising monarch butterflies to pulling invasive species in the nearby ravine, students enjoy a variety of enriching activities and have a direct impact in reducing climate change at their school. Zayd Choudhary, a grade 6 student, says that the outdoor classroom makes learning more fun.

“I really like when Ms. Lowes takes us outside. We’ll be learning regular school things, but there’s something about going outside to learn that is so much fun and really helps me pay attention” 

He also shared that he enjoys all the fun activities they get to do in the outdoor learning space. 

“It’s cool because we also get to do different things than what we do inside. We get to learn about the plants and animals around us, and that leads to a lot of fun hands-on experiences. I get to learn more about the environment that I live in, so now I feel like I know a lot more about my surroundings”

The feedback from faculty and students shows that the outdoor classroom is a much appreciated space – it enriches students’ school experience and provides a break from their usual technology-focused lives. Outdoor learning allows students to build connections with their environment and community, all while learning valuable skills and becoming well-rounded members of society. The benefits and opportunities provided by outdoor classrooms show the merit of programs like that at Pilgrim Wood, and make it clear that similar programs, if implemented elsewhere, have the potential to positively impact youth and the surrounding community.

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