outdoor sunset

Outdoor Science Schools in California 

Why does California have so many science schools and outdoor education programs? What do outdoor education and outdoor science schools provide that regular schools don’t? Well, they’re a great way to engage students and provide an opportunity for them to explore knowledge in a unique environment. Learn more about how outdoor science schools started and some of the history in California.

Why Does California Have Outdoor Education Programs? 

There are a number of associations in California devoted to outdoor education. Why, you might ask? Outdoor learning has been emphasized and encouraged in the state for some years now. 

In 2013, California adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)—a multi-state effort in the United States to create updated science education standards. According to NGSS, the standards are “rich in content and practice, arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education.” These standards include climate change and environmental science. 

The California Science Framework—published by the California Department of Education (CDE) in 2016—explicitly mentions outdoor education: 

“For many decades, California has been a national leader in educating students about the environment, and now more than ever, the state recognizes that environmental literacy is crucial to sustaining the economic and environmental well-being of all Californians. This is embodied in the California Education Code and reflected in the educational mandates of many state agencies. 

Environmental literacy means more than knowing environmental content; it also encompasses civic engagement and community involvement in diverse settings. Going beyond the walls of the classroom, environmental literacy can be developed through investigations on campus, in the local community, on the schoolyard, at nature centers and outdoor schools, as well as in the rich and diverse natural landscapes found throughout California.” 

CDE recognizes the importance of outdoor education and learning about the environment, and with beautiful weather and landscape all year round, it’s no surprise that there are many outdoor science programs throughout the state. 

Benefits of Outdoor Science Programs

So, now we know why there are so many outdoor education programs throughout California. But why does the state so strongly emphasize and encourage outdoor learning? There are many proven benefits for students, from increased classroom engagement to a more practical understanding of our environment and concepts introduced in the classroom. As in the past, we like to use Pali Camps and Pali Institute as our examples.

Other benefits include: 

  1. Connecting students to nature. At Pali Institute, for example, the majority of activities take place outside in all types of weather. Pali understands the importance of children disconnecting from screens and discovering ecosystems. Here, students are able to see, touch, and learn about the environment and our impact on the world. 
  1. Hands-on learning. At programs like Pali, students don’t just read about concepts and lessons in textbooks. In fact, textbooks are brought to life here. Pali provides a fun and strong curriculum that parents and teachers can customize to perfectly supplement their traditional schoolyear. 
  1. Improved childhood development. In a study by the American Institutes for Research on the Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California, children who attended an outdoor education program increased their science scores by 27 percent. 

Ready to Plan Your Trip? 

The best way to understand the importance of outdoor education is to experience it firsthand. If you’re looking for the perfect introduction to experiential education, check out programs like Pali Institute. Pali offers hands-on learning programs over the course of 3-5 days, across three categories: Outdoor Education, Science, and Leadership. 

It’s Pali’s goal to have each student leave with an increased understanding of our human impact. Pali is also the only residential outdoor education program in California that’s accredited by the Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC), which holds them to more than 100 professional standards and guidelines. 

To get started, explore the categories you’re interested in, and reach out to Pali or another one of the many outdoor educational camps in California to start planning the field trip of a lifetime! 

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