Outdoor Play Foundational for Science Education

CLWS students playing outdoors, climbing trees, splashing in the lake, and filling buckets with sand.

New research highlights the foundational role that nature-based play has in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

“We often associate early childhood STEM education with things like magnifying glasses and tutorials in the experimental method. But the links between movement and cognition suggest that kids also benefit from less formal investigations,” writes biological anthropologist Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. “Simple activities — even very messy, and seemingly repetitive ones — help wire a child’s intuitions about how the world works. And that could lay the groundwork for a bright future in STEM.”

The natural world provides an incredibly rich environment for children to explore and learn about through play. They build, climb, investigate, experiment, and through that exploration acquire language and concepts that form a strong basis for more formal STEM learning. They also develop the curiosity and habit of experimentation that forms the core of scientific inquiry.

“What [the students] don’t realize is how… outdoor play is the foundation for critical thinking later in life,” shares CLWS Kindergarten teacher Jessi Lisell. “Identifying a problem, hypothesizing a solution, then testing that idea through experimentation are the essentials of the scientific method, and they are discovering its validity on their own.”

That is why science education in Waldorf Schools starts with a solid foundation of nature-based play beginning in early childhood, and uses a hands-on and nature-enhanced approach throughout the grades to engage students in learning.

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