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Bridging Literacy, Technology, and the Outdoors With Digital Libraries

Researchers have made a case for reading outdoors. A study by the SUNY College of Optometry concludes that visual contrast increases when outdoors, and reading under the bright light of the outdoors helps to stimulate the visual brain more effectively. Thankfully, technology has given educators and students alike the tools to access a wide range of reading materials from virtually any location. In a world where fewer children are electing to spend time outdoors but are logging record numbers of screen time, perhaps an outdoor experience is a way to combine the positive aspects of screen-based learning and a nature-focused environment. It may also be the key to getting students a newfound appreciation for the outdoors.

Digital libraries: a tool for literacy

Kids are not always encouraged to bring physical books outside – carrying multiple books can be inconvenient, and weather conditions like rain may make outdoor reading difficult. This is where digital libraries come in, providing ultimate portability and a more comprehensive range of choices. The new Everand website offers a vast collection of ebooks and audiobooks so children can enjoy reading – even while offline while adventuring outdoors. Educators can lead explorations based on activity-focused titles like Book of Nature Projects. Audiobooks like What Wonders Await Outdoors are better appreciated in a similar environment. And because kids are more likely to encounter unfamiliar flora and fauna outdoors, having digital materials to provide helpful context enriches their learning experience. For younger children, in particular, educators may find it valuable to set parameters to define their digital learning experiences. The Amazon Kids+ platform gives students access to thousands of kid-friendly books, educational apps, and more. With easy-to-use parental controls, teachers can work with parents to set educational goals and personalize screen time limits to ensure streamlined consumption of digital books. Setting these limits can be helpful for outdoor learning so children do not get distracted by digital forms of entertainment during their time outside.

How to take learning outdoors

Our “Learning Invitations - 3 Way To Get and Keep Students Engaged” article talks about the importance of launching your instructional units in the form of engaging initial activities that help students put their best foot forward and be successful. Taking digital learning outdoors is a great way to take students out of the overly academic state of mind they adopt inside classroom walls, encouraging relaxed but effective learning. A study of 300 children in a Midwestern United States environmental magnet school showed that holding classes in nature helps kids be more attentive and focused, even when they return indoors.

You can use resources from digital libraries to conduct experiments in nature; however, outdoor learning doesn’t have to be limited to science subjects. Students can be encouraged to write creatively about their surroundings, supported by a digital guide for crafting narratives. During school camping or field trips, ebooks carrying valuable historical context on the areas visited can help foster a deeper sense of appreciation among students. For much younger students, whose energy levels can often spike and dip in bouts, audiobooks provide children with an enriching and productive downtime activity. As they listen to stories about the outdoors while taking a rest, they can connect the concepts they hear about to what they actually encounter in nature.

The ability to connect classroom theories with real-world experiences can be a life-changing moment for a student; it’s when they realize the lessons they learn in school are truly useful and relevant. Spending time outdoors helps them understand their role in the natural world, an experience further elevated with the knowledge provided by digital libraries – the fusion of the two helps foster a child’s innate love of learning.


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