Active Learning: Physical Activity in Outdoor Classrooms

Students who participate in physical activity during school lessons do better on tests than students who stick to sedentary learning, according to a new study conducted by the University College London. Many students struggle with staying focused in a traditional classroom where lessons involve rote memorization and note-taking. Incorporating experiential learning and physical activity into outdoor classrooms helps students stay engaged with the material.

How Does Physical Activity Affect Student Performance?

Teachers recognize that physical activity not only improves students’ physical health but also their overall wellbeing. Physical education and recess are built into the schedules of younger students but are seen as less important for older students who need more academic teaching time. Often, students sacrifice their physical and mental health to focus their energy on school, even though this can lead to energy depletion and poorer academic performance.
“Physical activity is good for children’s health, and the biggest contributor of sedentary time in children’s lives is the seven or eight hours a day they spend in classrooms,” lead author of the study, Dr. Emma Norris, suggests. “Our study shows that physically active lessons are a useful addition to the curriculum as they create a memorable learning experience and help children learn more effectively.”

How Can Physical Activity be Incorporated into Classrooms?

Incorporating physical activity into a lesson is particularly useful when it is relevant to the material. For example, in one of the studies analyzed, students simulated traveling the world by running in place between answering questions related to different countries. They found that students were more focused on the task and followed the teacher’s instructions more closely compared to their peers in a control group.
The power of experiential education is that it shows teens how to apply the skills they learn in the classroom to their personal lives and the world around them. Wilderness therapy programs encourage teens to be active learners in their natural environment. Through outdoor activities and hands-on learning opportunities, teens learn more about themselves and how these lessons apply to their personal lives. Learning is more than about getting good grades, it’s about how knowledge might shape their personal goals–in and out of the classroom. 

Integrated Academics in our Outdoor Classroom

Trails Carolina stands out from other wilderness therapy programs by offering an accredited academic program where students can earn school credits. Students’ schedules are split between a traditional classroom environment at base camp and experiential learning on wilderness expeditions. Our goal is to provide an experiential classroom environment that reinvigorates students’ appreciation for education, renews confidence in their ability to learn, and prepares them to reenter their home classroom as critical learners. Students learn to take inventory of their learning styles and how to be advocates for their own learning. As teens spend time reflecting on past choices, they have the opportunity to explore future possibilities and discover lessons only nature can teach.

Daily lessons are focused on:

  • Personal wellness (nutrition, stress, sleep, etc.)
  • Earth science (weather, water, soil, etc.) 
  • Appalachian History 
  • World Literature, with literature selections correlating with broad themes at Trails Carolina (rites of passage and the hero’s journey)

Adventure Activities include:

  • Hiking and backpacking
  • Equine programming
  • Team-building games
  • Yoga

If your child’s mental health has affected their motivation and engagement in the classroom, wilderness therapy programs can help them get back on track!

Trails Carolina Can Help 

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program that helps teens ages 10-17 who are struggling with behavioral and emotional issues. This program uses adventure-based therapy to help students gain a new sense of self-awareness, confidence, and independence. The skills they learn throughout the wilderness program offer long-term benefits to their ability to successfully self-navigate in the real world. By removing teens from their fast-paced environment into a safe, nurturing, and peaceful environment, they are able to focus on improving and reflecting upon their behavior. Trails Carolina gives students the tools they need to lead happy and healthy lives.

Contact us at 800-975-7303 to learn more about outdoor education through wilderness therapy. 

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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