What is an outdoor classroom?
An outdoor classroom facilitates the benefits of being closer to nature. Overlooking the school grounds, for example, or a beautiful woodland makes the transition between being indoors and venturing into the great outdoors a seamless and rather magical one for the adventurous young mind.
Outdoor classrooms that have natural features are particularly beneficial, not least due to the improved aesthetics. Timber builds, for example, blend in with the natural surroundings and help ensure students are totally surrounded by nature - even when they’re technically “indoors”.
Why choose an outdoor classroom instead of the classic indoor one?
The benefits are endless. It’s hard to pick just a few reasons why, but here’s our guide to the top five ways an outdoor classroom can revolutionise your students’ learning experience…
1. Find new ways to engage students…
Forget textbooks and constant access to the internet on mobile phones and laptops. Being truly at one with nature allows young minds to explore and appreciate their surroundings. Learning about the environment allows hands-on activity and exploration. There’s rarely a right answer when it comes to creativity, so the focus is very much shifted onto the learning process rather than the final outcome. This gives students the freedom to express themselves in an uninhabited environment.
Of course, being around nature is a multi-sensory experience, too (again, let’s put down the textbooks for a moment). As humans, we have a need to be around nature, so being able to touch, smell and hear the natural environment around us helps develop long lasting memories. Being outdoors is fun for children, and as such the association between learning and enjoyment means that the student is more likely to be an engaged and enthusiastic learner later down the line.
We’re programmed to develop around nature - avoiding poisonous berries, for example, was a key to survival and throughout evolution humans still develop cognitively when faced with problems and creative thinking. This is something being around nature definitely facilitates, which inevitably leads to more developed imagination and critical thinking, according to Burdette & Whitaker.
2. … And new ways to teach classic topics
Are your class creating 3D shapes from sticks or discovering natural angles found in the great outdoors? How about creating some leaf collages or writing a short story about the scarecrow found at the bottom of the garden?
Learning outdoors doesn’t have to be just for the nature boffins. It’s just as important to learn with nature as it is to learn about it. The best part? Still no textbooks required.
What about the academic results? According to researcher Justin Dillon, students learning in an outdoor classroom experienced greater knowledge gain and deeper understanding.
“Experience of the outdoors and wilderness has the potential to confer a multitude of benefits on young people’s physical development, emotional and mental health and well being and societal development.” - Penny Travlou, OPENspace Research Centre
3. Celebrate different learning styles
Of course, some students thrive when learning textbook-style, but for other students who prefer a more physical, experiential way of learning an outdoor classroom is perfect. ESL students or SEN students, for example, may find outdoor learning particularly beneficial as it allows them to discover academia in a non-traditional way.
According to a study by Andrea Taylor, children with ADHD who spent time in nature had an increased attention span later on in life.
From a practical perspective, a bespoke outdoor classroom has plenty of benefits to consider. Accessibility features, quiet areas and sensory rooms, considered use of space and specialised lighting and acoustics are all additional considerations that help to ensure each and every outdoor classroom is suitable for its individual need. As just one example, our bi-fold doors allow schools to “bring the outdoors in” whilst still being protected from the elements.
Our work with Keelman’s Way School gave us the opportunity to provide bespoke features such as sliding folding doors and gently sloped access paths to allow a seamless transition between the outdoor environment and the classroom.
“The Hide is a valuable and exciting new asset for our pupils and soon, the wider community.” - Paula Selby, Headteacher at Keelman’s Way School
4. Doing a great job for nature, one day at a time
Being around nature encourages a natural respect for it. The microcosm of the school’s outdoor learning environment represents the greater ecosystem and encourages respect for the environment. Going green is never a bad thing, and to naturally introduce this inherent respect for the planet can only be a positive thing.
The physical benefits for students connecting with nature can be tremendous, too (or should that be tree-mendous?) The number of children suffering from obesity and diabetes can be reduced thanks to regular exercise - provided perfectly through the exploration of nature!
5. Happier students, a happier school
Spending more time outdoors improves mood, so those who learn in an outdoor classroom are less likely to become involved in violence or bullying. It also helps to improve social skills and cognitive development, which in turn allows students to connect with one another and therefore establishing a cooperative, pleasant relationship.
Nature is a soothing influence - the studies say so. Therefore it’s natural to assume that schoolchildren who are so absorbed in nature and learning are less likely to be concentrating on discomfort, boredom or aggravation - resulting in a happier classroom environment. If you would like to learn more this interesting article, '12 Scientific Benefits of Being Outdoors' is well worth a read.
So what about the benefits for the school?
It’s not just students who benefit from an outdoor classroom. From a budget perspective, the cost of installing and sustaining an outdoor classroom is significantly smaller than developing an indoor classroom due to the ability to bespokely fit the classroom in the most appropriate available space.
With rising pupil numbers, schools are often pushed to find space seemingly out of nowhere. To extend the school would provide significant disruption, whereas an outdoor classroom with all the unique facilities needed can be just the right solution. There are also many opportunities to apply for funding for an outdoor classroom which dramatically reduces the cost.
Our timber builds provide even further benefit. Features such as living roofs have a number of environmental benefits as well as encouraging greater biodiversity and wildlife. Timber itself, of course, is at the centre of our business and has a wealth of incredible benefits from its low environmental impact, comparatively low cost and stunning aesthetics that allow each build to blend into its natural surroundings. From a school’s perspective, building a timber eco classroom is not only a great chance to expand the opportunities for its young learners, but also a sound financial and environmental decision.
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