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The role of outdoor education in child development in Italian nursery schools


Outdoor activities may be more effective in promoting early child development than indoor activities

This study investigated the influence of outdoor activities on the development of one- to three-year-old children attending nursery schools in Italy. Previous research on the impact of outdoor activities is generally lacking for this age group.

The 160 participating toddlers were divided into two groups, based on their attendance of an outdoor education (OE) or more traditional nursery school. Teachers in the OE schools were trained in outdoor education while teachers in the traditional nursery schools were not. There were 76 children in the OE group; 84 in the traditional education group. Three different measures were used for data collection.

At the beginning of the study, a psychologist administered the widely-used Denver Developmental Screening Test to each toddler in the sample. Results of this external evaluation were then compared with the teacher’s evaluation of each child’s development using the Kuno Beller Development Tables. Both tools assess development across the major developmental domains (cognition, physical development, social development, and emotional development). Comparison results indicated that the Kuno Beller Development Tables were reliable indicators of children’s development in each of these domains.

The Kuno Beller Development Tables was administered by the teachers in January at the beginning of the study (T1) and again in June at the end of the study (T2). The Outdoor Activities/Trips Diary was the third data collection tool. Teachers used this tool throughout the study to record information about children’s time outdoors (weather, group size, place, and duration) and their activities while outdoors (free play, guided play, free exploration, guided exploration, motor education, guided trip, other).

The results of the two groups were then compared. Data from the Outdoor Activities/Trips Diary indicated that the OE group spent much more time in outside activities than the other group and that the garden area was preferred over other outdoor options. Children in the OE group also showed significantly greater improvement in most of the developmental areas (cognitive, emotional, social, fine motor skills) than children in the traditional education group.

These findings suggest that outdoor education activities may offer greater opportunities for child development than indoor activities. These findings also indicate that outdoor education characterized by both physical activity and a natural environment could promote the development and well-being of toddlers.


Monti, F., Farné, R., Crudeli, F., Agostini, F., Minelli, M., Ceciliani, A., (2017). The role of outdoor education in child development in Italian nursery schools. Early Child Development and Care, 189(6), 867-882.


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