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Outdoor Learning Should Engage All Five Senses

Ed Melvin

Children learn through play, and playgrounds provide the perfect opportunity for young learners to get their hands dirty—figuratively and literally—to explore how the world around them works. Among many other things, playgrounds provide an opportunity for children to learn teamwork, build social connections, examine patterns and experiment with cause and effect. The best outdoor learning spaces engage all five senses—seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling—to provide a completely immersive learning experience.

You see, the best playgrounds are so much more than a neatly fenced area with a few pieces of recreational equipment. Incorporating all the senses expands the effectiveness of the playground as both a recreational and educational space. To explore the many ways to incorporate each of the senses, we’ve developed a series of discussions—one for each of the five senses.

What Does Your Playground Look Like?

As humans, we rely so much on our sight that it can be easy to forget all the other senses we use to absorb our environment. Sight stands alone. The visuals of a playground provide the first impression to children, piquing their curiosity. A playground that fails to be visually engaging fails to invite children to explore and experience the wonders of outdoor learning.

What Does Your Playground Sound Like?

Playgrounds that purposefully engage sound add a new dimension of learning and fun. Outdoor instruments, babbling water features and other aural experiences can begin to incorporate concepts like rhythm and pitch into a growing menu of learning experiences for a well-planned outdoor space.

What Does Your Playground Taste Like?

As anyone who has been around children can tell you, even the most mannered children will undoubtedly place objects in their mouths. For young learners, taste is another dimension of learning through experimentation. And, as they say, if you can’t beat them… join them. The best way to address taste is through plant life. To turn your playground into a true outdoor classroom, consider the real-life learning lab a vegetable garden can present.

What Does Your Playground Feel Like?

With two hands and two feet, children touch their way through the world. This form of tactile learning is the first and most basic learning skill, and one of the most pleasurable. Added to this is the more abstract idea of emotional feeling. Together, physical and emotional feeling bring dimension to outdoor learning environments.

What Does Your Playground Smell Like?

Smells ring bells. That is, the sense of smell strongly correlates to memory and emotion. This is why the sense of smell plays such an important role in designing outdoor learning environments. The scents, aromas, fragrances and odors associated with playgrounds can be transformative are as important as all other senses of a playground.

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