In recent years, more and more schools have been waking up to the benefits of outdoor learning. It offers a multitude of benefits to pupils, allowing them to use their creativity and imagination to face challenges and solve problems that would not normally arise in a classroom environment.
A growing number of schools are making the effort to reconnect students with the great outdoors to combat the pressures of the modern digital world.
St George’s School for Girls is one such school. Paula Sinclair, the school’s Outdoor Learning Coordinator, makes it her mission to inspire a love of the outdoors in her students. St George’s is lucky to have a dedicated outdoor classroom, complete with a wooden fort, fairy stools and bug hotel.
Paula believes there are two types of outdoor learning: “One is just having your regular classes take place outside, while the other involves learning from nature by interacting with the natural materials you can find outdoors in a hands-on manner.”
Stressing that outdoor learning doesn’t have to be complicated, Paula explained: “It can even be as simple and spontaneous as getting the class to take off their socks and shoes and heading outside to experience and enjoy nature – it doesn’t have to be a planned lesson every time.”
Claire Floquet, from Loretto School, also strongly believes that outdoor learning plays an important role in child development. Loretto’s spacious, leafy campus, situated next to the local beach and nature reserve, offers pupils the opportunity to take part in many adventurous outdoor activities.
Claire said: “Loretto has a strong participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and offers additional experience in a range of skills and challenges, designed to foster a sense of adventure.
“This includes Loretto's Borealis Society, dedicated to furthering the education of Sixth Form pupils in matters relating to the arctic and sub-arctic areas of our planet. Members of the Society venture on major mountaineering expeditions in boreal areas such as Greenland, Iceland and Northern Norway.”
Loretto Junior School pupils benefit from dedicated time at the Forest School with qualified Forest School Leaders. Kim Wells, one of the Leaders, said: “Children are naturally curious and adventurous, but, in today’s society, health and safety concerns and busy schedules can prevent us from encouraging children’s sense of exploration and discovery.
“Loretto’s Forest School gives plenty of opportunities for children to enjoy open-ended, self-directed, adventurous and risky play. This supports children in testing their limits and exploring beyond them, in a safe and managed environment.”
Indeed, the benefits of outdoor learning are extremely wide ranging. As Paula from St George’s explains: “Far from just increasing physical health, outdoor learning can have a wonderful effect on the mental health of pupils too. Learning is developed through play and experimentation, increasing motivation and focus at the same time.
“We are also teaching children to respect others and the natural world, which is more important now than ever. Their emotional resilience, self-confidence and independence also grow, and we can find that children who are perhaps less confident in a purely academic environment emerge as the natural leaders outside, able to manage teams and resources to solve practical challenges set."
Paula also stressed the fact that outdoor learning can be applied to absolutely any subject, from active maths using natural materials such as sticks to count out sums, to acting out the wars of independence using a wooden fort as a castle - anything is possible.
Paula is currently working towards formalising a timetable of outdoor learning in the curriculum at St George’s, so that every teacher can incorporate it into their classes at every level. With schools like St George’s and Loretto leading the way in outdoor learning, there is no doubt that it will eventually become a standard part of every school day.
As Paula says: “Really, the only limits on outdoor learning are the teacher’s imagination and motivation – it can be as simple or as creative as you want it to be.”