The Finnish outdoor classroom

The Finnish Society for Nature and Environment (FSNE), an environmental NGO, and Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland, which manages all protected areas on state-owned land in Finland hosted an event on outdoor education during the Helsinki IUCN Regional forum in December 2015.

Offering a glimpse of the various environmental education activities that take place in Finland, the event offered participants a chance to share their ideas on how to enhance environmental education. The aim was to emphasize outdoor and environmental education, as well as provide a platform for networking among IUCN members who work with concepts similar to the Finnish Nature Schools. This is a summary of the presentations and discussion.

A love of nature and an understanding of ecology are important elements of conservation action. For this reason, environmental education is on the agenda in many countries worldwide. Various national organizations are using outdoor education as a tool for teaching children about nature. Despite our cultural differences, nature is important – no, nature is indispensable — to every single one of us human beings. Still, people are getting more and more detached from nature.

Even though we in the Nordic countries have long traditions of an outdoor lifestyle, compared to fifty years ago our children spend very little time playing in nature. They follow their parents, whose work and life primarily takes place indoors. Their school time is spent at their desks, and even though Finnish children have a lot of recess in comparison with children in other countries (usually 15 minutes out of every hour), schoolyards are getting more and more sterile due to national safety regulations. This is why outdoor education initiatives aimed at compulsory education are very important — and also effective. They really do reach and touch every single child.

The benefit of teaching outdoors
Nature is considered an important aspect of childhood, and many of us feel it is important that future generations not miss this opportunity. Research indicates that there are many benefits from being outdoors. Nature offers positive effects on mental and physical health; being outdoors during a school (or work) day leads to increased physical activity that we all need. In addition, research has an acknowledged positive effects on motor skill development in children. Outdoor learning might appeal to students who have difficulties learning in an indoor setting, and it increases student engagement. Research indicates that an outdoor environment affects memory and learning, though the mechanisms behind this are yet to be clarified. Currently, Danish researchers are examining how and why social patterns change when you take a group of children outdoors.

Outdoor education has acquired increasing attention among decision makers in Finland. The new Finnish national core curriculum that is to be fully implemented in 2016 stresses experiential and holistic learning. There is a growing interest in using outdoor education as a tool in compulsory school education. Until recent years, such methods have primarily been used in camp school settings, with engaged biology teachers as an exception. The Nature Schools, which provide “outdoor add-ons” to compulsory education, have been forerunners in the field. The first one in Finland, Naturskolan Uttern, was founded in 1986. Since 2007, the Nature Schools have gathered together with similar agents under the LYKE network.

Finnish Nature School Education
Nature School education is multisensory, engaging, hands-on, versatile, interdisciplinary, and authentic. The Nature School teachers are role models for enjoying the outdoors, engaging themselves in play and involving themselves in student discoveries. The method is not so much about stressing the problems, the guilt, and the acute situation for our environment. Actually, sometimes it does not focus on environment at all. It stems from the children, their surroundings, their everyday life, knowledge, skills, and interests. The FSNE and Metsähallitus Nature School education relies on research that states that this is where to start when aiming for an increased environmental consciousness. Not from facts, but from feeling — a feeling of being at home in nature.

This might not go for all nature schools in Finland, but the FSNE teachers strive to attach the events outdoors to classroom teaching. This means that we provide the teachers with ideas for introducing a theme in the classroom beforehand, as well as follow-up tasks that can be done after the experiences outdoors (It is still up to the teachers if they take the material into use). This approach leads to increased student learning.

Similar initiatives in Europe and Asia
The participants in the seminar had various backgrounds, but many similar experiences of outdoor or environmental education from their home countries. It would be wonderful to gather these similar outdoor educators and in order to learn from each other and develop our work. Finnish outdoor educators probably take most of their inspiration from English speaking countries, including our fellow Nordic countries. A lot could be learned from teachers in the eastern part of Europe and Asia, though language can be a barrier. Here, CEC could be used as a contact between teachers. Though all of them might not focus on species conservation, right now all outdoor education that respects our nature support this cause. You need to know and love something to really protect it.

Whether you are interested in outdoor education in Finland, Nature Schools or research in similar topics, contact:

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