Why is outdoor education so important?
If you’re a keen reader of this blog, you’ll know how passionately we champion outdoor education. The joy of exploring and experiencing nature not only encourages an inherent interest and respect for the great outdoors, it also stimulates creativity and provides a fresh, physical way of learning.
Though fulfilling a thorough outdoor education programme can be practically tricky for some schools, the addition of an outdoor classroom can ensure children get exposure to the natural environment, and learn in an inspiring and encouraging atmosphere.
We consulted a number of education specialists to find out exactly why outdoor education is imperative in today’s modern society, where technology continues to take off and the love of exploring and communicating during outdoor adventures is fast becoming a thing of the past.
Angharad Holloway, Head of Talbot Heath School for Girls, Bournemouth said: “Outdoor education can be transformative for pupils and revelatory for teachers. Qualities such as perseverance, risk-taking, teamwork and creativity come to the fore when children are given the freedom to devise and complete their own tasks, having replaced the constraints of classroom walls with the beauty of natural surroundings. I have witnessed shy, hesitant pupils develop into confident, imaginative team leaders after just a few sessions at our Forest School; they view themselves and their strengths differently having completed tasks independently and successfully. The curriculum comes to life as pupils complete Maths and Science tasks using twigs and pine cones or print artwork with leaves on fabric. Problem solving through challenge based learning in an outdoor setting has meaning and relevance to the children in a way that structured, text-based learning does not.”
Rachel Carrell, CEO of Koru Kids, a childcare tech startup, believes outdoor education builds resilience and teamwork. From New Zealand, Rachel says: “from the age of about 10 years old it’s usual to have a school camp every year, where children experience sleeping in tents, going on long day walks in the wilderness, cooking for themselves on campfires and making up games in a place with no mobile phone signal. In New Zealand, we see these experiences as a vital part of a childhood education, and a way to keep kids ‘grounded’ in physical reality.”
In the UK, where outdoor education is slowly rising in popularity and recognition, Rachel has noticed a stark difference. “Many schools [in the UK] are lucky enough to have outdoor space within the grounds or easily accessible. Schools with little outdoor space can make use of local parks or city farms. The bigger challenge for British schools is finding time in the day to fit in outdoor education, and resources it given the pressures on school budgets. With so much emphasis on basic skills like literacy and numeracy, and the focus on testing – not to mention the enormous pressure on teachers’ time - it requires real commitment from a school to make it work.”
From a parent’s viewpoint, outdoor education can offer a rewarding and enriching journey for all children, particularly SEN pupils. Sarah Hoss, former teacher and qualified chartered physiotherapist, has first-hand experience of how beneficial outdoor education can be: “I’ve never understood why we insist on putting children into sterile boxes to provide them with education. We all learn much more deeply by our experiences. We are creative, physical, strong mammals and we need to be out there moving and working and learning.
As a physiotherapist, my job was to rehabilitate people after injury, develop physical skills and teach vital functions such as balance and coordination. My patients didn’t learn by reading how to do these things... they learned by doing! Rehab hospitals are often based in countryside settings and the benefit of getting outdoors is acknowledged as being hugely important.
As the mother of a dynamic young man who lives well with Down’s Syndrome, I realised very early on that the route to his learning would be ‘doing’. My son was brought up alongside his neurotypical sisters and we spent every morning outside, rain or shine, learning about our world by being in it, feeling it, seeing it, smelling it, experiencing it! My son has learned how to balance and move and assess danger by being outside.
School environments are often a massive struggle for children. They are too brightly-lit, too hot, too loud. It can feel like sensory overload.
I had to work closely with my son’s schools to encourage them to let him go outside. He was seen as having challenging behaviour and it was difficult to influence things. They seemed to be retreating him into ever smaller rooms. It’s my belief that children generally would find school much more enjoyable if much more time was dedicated to being outside.
I’ve seen a reduction in challenging behaviour in my own son when he’s given the outdoor stimulation he clearly needs. I feel he expresses his needs clearly through his behaviour. I have found local playgrounds with timber play equipment and we have used those environments in all weathers to learn counting, to play chasing games, to invent games and act different roles.”
So what about the opportunity to experience nature, when it’s not always possible to conduct lessons outdoors?
We’ve written several blogs on the benefits of outdoor classrooms, as we’re firm believers that encouraging children to respect and learn from nature is a vital part of a young person’s development. With so many industry specialists, educationalists and parents agreeing, it really is time for schools to begin planning how to improve their outdoor education offering.
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