To provide a unique opportunity to Iowans that builds community value by creating accessible and vibrant outdoor learning spaces that enhance people’s relationship with the outdoors and inspires people with Iowa’s native landscape.
Outdoor Learning Environments (OLE) Definition
We define an OLE as a deliberately selected or designed outdoor setting, used and supported by many in the community that provides an intentional space for exploration, inquiry, and learning to empower environmental literacy and education in any discipline. An OLE can be located at a community location like a library, park, adjacent to a protected natural area, or other places where the outdoor setting can enhance educational opportunities for all community members.
The OLE Program provides both funding and additional support to create these important spaces. With the large network of knowledgeable Iowa landscape professionals and other funding opportunities a lot can be accomplished by putting the right pieces together of technical knowledge, funding, and local community resources. As sites are developed we will be working towards developing a communication hub for project implementers to share progress and ideas.
Why is support for outdoor learning environments so important in Iowa?
A wide body of research demonstrates the important role of outdoor classrooms and education in child development, skill mastery, and educational success. Regular time outdoors can help young people’s social and physical development, fitness and motor skills, and creativity. For people al all ages, outdoor learning environments can help reduce stress and violence, support lifelong learning, and build environmental literacy and empathy.
Since the 1990s, Iowa has seen the creation of many outdoor classrooms, mostly at K-12 schools. Many of these projects have struggled to overcome challenges related to: technical expertise in creating the physical outdoor classroom setting, organizational needs like volunteer recruitment and management, or maintaining interest beyond the initial project champion. The Outdoor Learning Environments Program will clarify these challenges in Iowa and create assistance for educators and outdoor learning environment funders to help overcome these obstacles. For more information on our research findings, read the “Assessing the Current State of Outdoor Learning Environments in Iowa and Building Capacity for the Future” report document.
Who is supporting this program?
Major support for the Outdoor Learning Environments in Iowa project is provided by Iowa’s Living Roadway Trust Fund, based at the Iowa Department of Transportation. Other partners and sponsors of this program and the individual projects will depend on location and availability of resources.