Joe Bogumsky

Outdoor Learning Explained

For many years people have enjoyed embracing the natural environment. Playing in fields until tea time was the norm. Nowadays, our society doesn’t engage with nature as it used too. There have been companies, through the years, delivering outdoor experiences, but is this enough?

In this article, we will look at how new evidence and practises have altered society’s understanding of the importance of the outdoors. How the term outdoor learning, has been coined, and why our society should be embracing the outdoors on a wide scale, within their daily lives.

Origins of Outdoor Learning

Since the early 1970s, the National Association of Outdoor Education was created to focus on establishing a structure that can be used by professionals to deliver safe and effective activities in the outdoors. This structure focused on three areas, which were:

  • sharing safe and effective practices
  • developing the professional outdoor workforce
  • helping grow both the educational and outdoor sector

What was Outdoor Education

Outdoor education (OE) embraced activities and experiences, which generally took place outside, involved a physical and adventurous activity, and respected the natural environment. A physical and adventurous experience

Breaking Outdoor Learning Down

In the early 2000s, the outdoor sector shifted and looked at enhancing OE. Outdoor learning (OL) evolved from OE’s values and beliefs, given the importance of progressive formal educational experiences sitting alongside experiences in non-formal settings.  

OL embraces an approach to learning that uses the 4 values of OE (shown below in the first 4 bullet points) but also uses new and evolved values to enhance it’s approach. These include:

  • being outside as a focal part of the experience
  • elements of physical activities
  • a continually changing and adventurous element
  • always respecting the natural environment
  • memorable and fun experiences
  • inclusion
  • using the outdoors to help develop their experiences into knowledge, skills, and positive attitudes and behaviours
  • using residential experiences to help support learning

It is also essential that the five core areas are understood as they underpin the OL approach, which are:

  1. participation
  2. self-confidence and achievement
  3. differentiation and progression
  4. a balanced approach to risk management
  5. can be part of a residential experience

Outdoor Learning within Schools

Research towards OL is becoming more widely evidenced, acknowledged and accepted. Within the school curriculum, physical education has always given the option of covering outdoor adventurous activities (OAA) as internal teaching delivery or going on overnight outdoor trips (residential experiences).

Continuing with this view of how to implement OL within the curriculum would be limiting to the pupils opportunities in having an effective education.    

Fortunately research has proven that OL is most beneficial to children’s learning when schools have:

  • Governors/Senior Leadership Team (SLT) who have a good understand of OL
  • Teachers who feel confident and have experience in taking learning outside
  • OL that is interwoven within the formal school curriculum
  • Residential trips that are part of the progressive learning experience

Integrating Outdoor Learning within the Curriculum

To help guide schools towards a more effective OL curriculum, there are two reference links to look at:

Natural Connections: Transforming Outdoor Learning in Schools

Learning Outside The Classroom (LOTC): Where do I start? Removing the four walls and discovering core subjects in the natural environment

Creating Memorable Residential School Trips

Paul Hamlyn Foundation founded ‘Learning Away’, which has strong evidence that shows the positive impacts and benefits to linking residential trips with the curriculum.

To help guide your school towards more memorable and effective trips, there are two links to refer to:

Learning Away: Learning Away recommendations

Learning Away: What makes a brilliant residential?

Future of Outdoor Learning

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. The government has launched a 25 year environmental plan to help leave our world in a better place. Within this plan the Prime Minister wants children to engage more with the environment. To deliver this they are putting £10m into school visits and Nature Friendly Schools programme , which will help children learn about the natural world.

We now live in a new era where ‘one off’ outdoor experiences, yet very enjoyable, are just not enough for our children. Understanding that we could offer these valuable memories in our own gardens, parks, and schools, makes you realise how important it is for us, as educators (parents, teachers), to integrate outdoor learning within our daily lives.

Take a look at our nature-based activities .