Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California.

American Institutes for Research


Fifty-six percent of the treatment group reported that outdoor school represented the first time they had spent time in a natural setting. Participation in outdoor school was associated with higher ratings of conflict resolution skills and cooperation (longer-term student assessments), and environmental behaviors (parent reports). Strong evidence of the benefits of outdoor school is seen in teachers' ratings of students--students who attended the program received significantly higher ratings than children who did not participate in six of eight constructs: self-esteem, conflict resolution, relationship with peers, problem solving, motivation to learn, and behavior in class. Children who attended outdoor school significantly raised their science scores by 3 points (27 percent), as measured by a pre- and post-survey administered immediately upon their return to school. The increase in science knowledge was maintained six to ten weeks following program participation, with no significant loss in science scores. The positive outcomes associated with students' participation in the five-day outdoor science school are promising, especially given the relatively short timeframe of the program.

It is important to note that this study focuses on 255 students enrolled in schools serving at-risk populations, attending three outdoor science schools. Findings cannot be generalized to all students attending outdoor education programs in California, particularly given the range of programs that exist. However, this research indicates a large number of positive outcomes for atrisk children who attend resident outdoor science schools certified by the California Department of Education.

Pedagogical Area
  • environmental education
  • outdoor education, experiential education
Delivery Area
  • on site day programs (nature center, farm, etc.)
Outcome Area
  • academic performance
  • environmental knowledge, attitude and awareness
Participant Area
  • student
  • educator
  • program
Age Area
  • middle school (12-14 years old)