While we often look enviably at Sweden as a model for indoor and outdoor learning in children’s early years, academics take precedence over outdoor education and recreation by the time Swedish kids leave the sixth grade. Though outdoor education is a mandated part of Sweden’s curriculum, teachers in the upper grades struggle with ways to make nature relevant in typical rigorous coursework, and Swedish students spend less and less time outside during the day. Over the past decade, however, a group of educators, researchers, and nonprofit groups have been banding together to improve the quality and the quantity of the children’s time spent outdoors by educating the nation’s teachers. With the belief that teachers can use the outdoors to effectively teach academic subjects to students, education consultants have been offering popular training programs for teachers to equip them with the tools needed to make outdoor ed a beneficial experience for everyone. Helping teachers feel more comfortable incorporating outdoor ed into their lesson plans makes them more likely to include open air curriculum in their own classes and to facilitate the students’ beneficial and health-promoting bond with nature.
The training programs vary in subject from topics including edible schoolyards and team-building to outdoor cooking and meditation. Education expert and training conference planner Eva Kätting cites the changing roles of teachers and their need to transform all the information available to students today into knowledge through practical experience as a compelling reason for incorporating more outdoor ed in the curriculum.
Despite the allure of technology in teaching, nature is the perfect place for hands-on student participation and observation, and it promotes multiple mental and physical health-boosting behaviors. Benefiting from the the nationally ingrained attitude that “it’s good for children to be outside, regardless of the weather,” Swedish teachers have shown their enthusiasm for these trainings and conferences, with available spots filling quickly. In the past decade, thousands of teachers have been trained to include more outdoor recreation in Sweden, not to mention the thousands of additional educators in other countries (including Japan and Greece) who have also been trained using Sweden’s model. The Swedish government has also committed to investing $60 million towards improving schoolyards across the country, which will encourage teachers to take advantage of these outdoor ed resources even more.