If you had to choose between an education that offered your children an enjoyable learning experience that improved their social skills and made them generally happier and healthier, or one that didn't, which would you choose?

If, that same educational experience were to improve the health and well-being of the teachers teaching your child, improve their job satisfaction and had a positive impact on their teaching practice, would you make that educational experience compulsory?

Over the last 20 years, the term outdoor learning (OL) has evolved and gained pace, showing positive effects on school children's development when being exposed to it on a weekly basis. Implementing OL within schools should be on every school's agenda, in order to maximise the positive experiences pupils face when at school. Within this article we will be looking into whether OL in schools should become non-negotiable.

"Outdoor Learning"by USFWS Pacific is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

What is Outdoor Learning?

OL is the result of performing an activity/task outside, giving the learner a more rounded and deeper form of learning, which is in tune with the subconscious. These activities/tasks can range from reading a book outside to having a life-changing expedition.

Examples of experiences that involve OL:

  • a visit to a nature reserve and outdoor exploration
  • role-play and games based on imagination
  • task-based group activities, such as building a shelter
  • planting seeds or building a wormery

For a more in-depth understanding please read: Outdoor Learning Explained

"What a man hears, he may doubt; what he sees, he may possibly doubt; but what he does himself, he cannot doubt"

Dr S.A. Knapp (considered the father of Cooperative Extension)

Benefits of Outdoor Programmes in Schools

In 2016, The Natural Connections Demonstration project was established and delivered by Plymouth University, which was funded by Natural England, Defra, and Historic England. It was the UK's largest OL project, which found new evidence, showing that OL was beneficial for schools.

Pupils

  • 95 % found OL based lessons more enjoyable
  • 90 % felt happier and healthier
  • 72 % got on better with others

Teachers

  • 90 % found OL to be useful for curriculum delivery
  • 79 % felt OL had a positive impact on their teaching practice
  • 72 % said OL improved their health & well-being
  • 69 % felt it had a positive impact on both professional development & job satisfaction

Schools

  • 93 % thought that OL improves pupils’ social skills
  • 92 % said it improves pupils’ health & well-being and engages learning
  • 85 % saw a positive impact on pupils behaviour
  • 72 % reported that OL had a positive impact on teachers’ health & well-being

Source: Gov.uk, Natural England, England's largest outdoor learning project reveals children more motivated to learn when outside, published July 2016

After the Natural Connections Demonstration project was carried out, Ofsted wanted to know why learning beyond the classroom is more meaningful and special to a students’ learning experience.

This is what they said:

When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.

Taken from a report carried out by Ofsted: Learning Outside the Classroom

Moving Towards a Better School Experience

We now know what happens if schools create OL based programmes. The unfortunate and potential issue is that teachers won't continue to integrate OL within their programmes, due to a number of factors relating to:

  • work load
  • pressures of providing results
  • feeling out of their comfort zone
  • not having outdoor space or resources

Given that these points are very reasonable, as to why a teacher wouldn't continue integrating OL within their planning process, we need to provide guidance in making this whole-school approach easy for schools and their staff.

Guiding Schools to a Better Future

Considerations at a managerial level have to be discussed and actioned even before you want OL to become part of the whole-school approach. These considerations are:

  • integrating outdoor learning within the curriculum (plan/expected/natural)
  • cultural change within the school (cont. expressing the importance of OL)
  • personal development - review cycle (what is and isn't working)
  • training of staff (to help with planning and delivery)

For more information on 'considerations on a managerial level' and also how to provide an outdoor learning space for your teachers and pupils to use, then see 'a guide to creating an effective outdoor learning space'.

"Forest School 072"by DrJohnBullas is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A great way of starting to guide your school towards a more effective curriculum, is to look at either:

Learning Outside The Classroom: Where do I start
Learning Outside The Classroom: Policy & curriculum planning

Equally, if you feel that you are already exploring the outdoor environment, then please see our resources for more inspiration.

Take a look at our nature-based resources.

After seeing the research from the Natural Connections Demonstration project, it would suggest that all schools would love to make OL an integral part of the whole-school approach. In order to get there, schools need to plan and execute their four managerial considerations before introducing and supporting their staff to this wonderful world of OL. Once these realistic steps have been introduced into the fabric of schools planning process then it would become non-negotiable.