Outdoor Education: Fashion or a New Way to Build Social Awareness? (14/06/2022)

“Outdoor education (OE) should be considered as an educational strategy implemented in natural and outdoor contexts, based on experiential learning and active pedagogy. Working and training in the open air means taking advantage of what nature and the environment put at our disposal to acquire new learning and give quality to the educational process “: says Alberto Di Monaco, PhD in Environmental Sciences ‘Education and Pedagogy., Author of a volume dedicated to these topics (New frontiers of outdoor environmental education. Between sustainability and ecology, educational itineraries and expressive activities – Underground Editions, 2021). The issue is very current given the environmental and climate emergencies and has done so even more as a result of the health crisis resulting from the pandemic emergency, when the circulation of the virus indoors has become an even more threatening threat.

Di Monaco combines his activity as a professional educator with that of trainer and storyteller in services aimed at the elderly, infant and environmental education, adopting an intergenerational perspective. He founded and directed the group “La Bottega dei Narratori” within the social promotion association Arkys Network of Ideas Aps, with which he has been carrying out projects, workshops, paths and events around the country for years. We asked him to better explain the theoretical constructs and benefits of outdoor education: “The outdoor environment should be understood as a space dedicated to experience and education, in the significant training itineraries capable of giving life to infinite connections in a multidisciplinary perspective .. The main features of outdoor education are flexibility and adaptability.The writer Carlo Sgorlon said a few years ago: “We cannot “It is essential to relocate man as soon as possible to nature, to make him rediscover the humility of recognizing himself as part of it and bound to it by a vital necessity.”

How can outdoor education affect developmental pathways?
The pedagogy of outdoor education promotes direct and concrete experiences in nature in children. It all starts with the assumption that establishing a link with the environment helps children to develop important aspects of their education and personality. It assumes that there is an intentionality that guides being outdoors, recognizes the external environment as a privileged place for the psychophysical development of the subject in evolutionary age. Direct and first-person contact with nature helps to develop the perception of reality in a multisensory way, promotes the stimulation of creativity, imagination, autonomy, sense of adventure, discovery, curiosity and self-regulation skills. It also expands the variety of experiences, because it allows us to go beyond the only auditory and visual modalities that predominate today. The experience in nature allows the child to harmonize the mind-body binomial by returning to unity and encourages interaction and socialization with the peer group and with adults, through games, paths and activities. The application of EO, if carried out continuously, undoubtedly produces multiple benefits, positively increasing the overall development of the child.

Often, schools and didactics still seem rigidly confined within physical and conceptual walls. But at the same time, positive experiments are also being consolidated: how is it possible to open the school to a more fruitful relationship with the natural environment?
Environmental education becomes an opportunity for school innovation because it contributes to enriching the training offer of the “school of autonomy”, making it able to develop productive interactions between the school and the territory and to give meaning. to disciplinary knowledge by relating them. Today, the school is open to the social context and the territory to read the identity of children, to build with them a culture of belonging and participation, of education for mutual respect, coexistence, conscious citizenship; it is the first community in which, through experience and play, we talk, communicate, get to know different cultures and become active citizens. In other words, it becomes a research-action project for students – because it combines knowledge with social commitment – and for teachers, to whom it offers the opportunity to reconsider their professionalism “in the field”. The proposed activities can respond to the main individual and social training needs that are the basis of environmental education: the need to discover and experience the environment; need to construct one’s own identity within a real, non-virtual, non-formalized context; need to belong and grow in a context of rich and complex relationships; need to know globally in a process that includes the sensory, emotional and cognitive level.

What should be the goal of proper environmental education today?
Environmental education must aim to change social values ​​and behaviors, using in the first place the stimuli offered by nature. The protection of the natural world must not be the primary purpose of environmental education, but also and above all a means through which each person can build his own personal and social consciousness. The adult plays a decisive role. The trainer and the driver of the experience play the role of environmental educator who must always be present, in cognitive surveillance, knowing how to reflect on what is happening modifying the itinerary and also following improvised compasses. According to Schön, reflective action is an epistemological construct: the professional who acts “reflexively” is the one who poses as a researcher and thanks to this attitude, increases knowledge and skills by reflecting on the action as it develops. ” .

Social gardens and orchards, reuse of abandoned spaces, sensory paths and bike lanes … can outdoor education also favor urban regeneration policies?
Humans should be aware of their role, especially after a planetary disaster, such as a pandemic. We must know how to better occupy the available spaces and before consuming additional resources, we must learn to make the most of those present, from recycling and reuse. If we need to reduce our consumption, we must emphasize that sustainable development should not be understood as a simple quantitative limitation: it appears the other way around as “quality growth”. It is of great importance to defend biological biodiversity in order to prevent the extinction of plant and animal species, but also to defend cultural biodiversity, languages ​​and knowledge.

Photo of Kelly Sikkema at Unsplash

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