Studies show that a varied, natural outdoor environment can reduce stress levels and increase concentration levels. When children are given opportunities for variation and learning in the interaction between indoor and outdoor environments, their scores in maths, languages and nature related subjects increase. In Japan, where they are confronted with an increasingly sedentary population, the Swedish outdoor education concept has attracted great interest.
“In large parts of the world, including Japan, outdoor education is seen more as exercise than education. But children can learn prepositions and linguistic terms outdoors,” says Anders Szczepanski (right), teacher, researcher and head of the National Centre for Outdoor Education at Linköping University. In conjunction with Professor Kazuhiko Kawasaki, a former professor of entrepreneurship at Tokai University now resident in Stockholm, he is arranging a week long-training programme around outdoor education for Japanese pre-school teachers.
Kazuhiko Kawasaki sees outdoor education as both a challenge and an opportunity for the Japanese, who are used to thinking ‘inside the box’.
“In Japan pupils learn that there is only one answer to each question, and that the challenge is to give that answer as quickly as possible. I would like for learning in Japan to move from that passive listening to become a little more creative, and outdoor education can play a role in that,” he says.
Changed situation in Japan
After the big 2011 earthquake in Japan, which led to the nuclear power plant accident in Fukushima, the situation for the pre-school teachers has changed to a certain extent – something that affects the chances of making outdoor education a reality.
“Outdoor education means that the children don’t only learn from what I’m saying. In nature you can also bring taste, smell and touch into the learning process. Unfortunately the children at my pre-school are only permitted to be outdoors for 45 minutes per day due to radiation in the ground,” says Hideko Goto, educationalist in a town about an hour form Fukushima. She is one of 15 Japanese pre-school teachers who visited pre-schools in Östergötland.
Japanese pre-schools were struck by the catastrophe in different ways. Some preschools were actually destroyed, elsewhere it is more how the children suffered. Many of the children and their families no longer have a home and they live in cramped conditions with others. The outdoor environment is then very significant as the children need to be allowed to move around. Ms Goto believes that outdoor education could play an even more important role after the catastrophe.
“It’s no longer simply a matter of assimilating new knowledge in an outdoor environment. It also has to do with overcoming the fear of nature and understanding that it is an opportunity.