Time spent outdoors and in nature has well-documented health and learning benefits, so it is crucial that children are provided with these opportunities from a young age. But for many children, particularly those living in cities, access to the outdoor spaces is limited.
The Outdoor Discovery Centre was built three years ago as part of the Canadian International School in Singapore. It is made up of 15 outdoor classrooms, converted from a playing field. The Centre ensures that all children have the opportunity to move, walk and play outdoors every day.
The Centre fosters a holistic approach to education, connecting children with their environment and providing a rich springboard for improved learning, health and wellbeing. There is also a focus on social development, encouraging children to relate well to each other in a variety of environments and often in a mixed age setting. The more informal setting gives educators a chance to understand who each child is and what motivates and interests them, so this can be incorporated into their education.
The outdoor learning spaces are made entirely from natural materials, with hills and tunnels planted with grass. Children are exposed to the elements and there’s plenty of opportunity to move in an organic way to stimulate mental and physical wellbeing. The school reports increased attention, curiosity and concentration after the children have outdoor sessions, as well as a reduction in behavioural incidents. Increased imagination and creative problem-solving skills are also reported, while parents are pleased with enthusiastic stories of school and improved sleep.
The space provides almost endless opportunities for physical movement and play. A very large mud kitchen allows children to submerge to their waist in mud, with lots of water basins where they can become scientists, mathematicians, cooks and outdoor experimenters. There’s also a large sandpit, as well as a bicycle track running the perimeter of the play area.
There are plenty of settings for creative expression too. There are four different platform areas where children can perform, sit, read, paint and write stories. A sound garden provides pipes and other objects that children can use to create musical performances. Large graffiti boards provide a space for painting and chalking designs.
Two gardens allow children to grow their own food, using a variety of technologies and techniques, including aeroponics and hydroponics, and experimenting with alternative sources of energy and compositing. The gardens also provide opportunities for school-wide learning projects and connections to the local community. Children are involved in the plants' and vegetables’ growth from beginning to end, while trees and flowers encourage butterflies, bees and other insects, allowing for lots of hands-on scientific discussion and discovery.