What is Outdoor Learning?
Outdoor learning includes; outdoor play (learning through play), environmental education, forest school skills, residential visits, adventurous activities, team building, grounds projects and much more. Outdoor learning does not have a clearly defined boundary, but it does have a common core…
It can provide a dramatic contrast to the indoor classroom. Direct experience outdoors is more motivating for many and has more impact. It leads to a deeper understanding of concepts that are difficult to teach effectively using classroom methods alone. As humans, we are genetically predisposed to move and interact with nature. Through gaining a greater understanding of our environment, we learn how to appreciate and protect it. It re-engages learners with the world as they actually experience it.
It taps into many learning styles and links with our school passion for building learning power. It naturally develops the learning skills of questioning, planning, revising, reasoning, communication, problem-solving, capitalising, and collaborative learning – to name some of the benefits.
Outdoor learning can help bring many school subjects alive as it focusses on real results and consequences. For that reason, the outdoors can have an impact on all areas of the curriculum. Outdoor learning also provides experiential opportunities, allowing pupils to respond positively to opportunities, challenges and responsibilities to manage risks and to cope with change.
What other benefits are there?
- There is evidence that it improves self-esteem and self-efficacy, and can have a positive effect on self-control. These gains are more significant when outdoor learning happens regularly.
- There are developmental benefits associated with the regular exercise that outdoor experiences provide.
- Direct experience of the natural environment can have significant mental and physical health benefits. It has a positive effect on frontal lobe development, lowers cortisol levels, calms the body and increases attention.
- Outdoor learning experiences can enhance interpersonal relationships and can facilitate group bonding and collaboration.
- Outdoor learning can help to reduce formality in relationships between young people, and between young people and staff.
Quality learning experiences in ‘real’ situations have the capacity to raise achievement across a range of subjects and to develop better personal and social skills. When these experiences are well planned, safely managed and personalised to meet the needs of every child they can;
- Improve academic achievement.
- Develop skills and independence in a widening range of environments.
- Make learning more engaging and relevant.
- Develop active citizens of the environment.
- Nurture creativity
- Provide opportunities for informal learning through play.
- Stimulate, inspire and improve motivation.
- Reduce behaviour problems and improve attendance.
- Provide opportunities to take acceptable levels of risk.
What does our Outdoor Learning look like?
At St, Herbert’s outdoor learning is integral to our curriculum. Theme based outdoor learning is integral to the curriculum and included on each year group's long-term plans. In addition to this, each year group follows a progression of skills to develop fire, cooking and den building skills. This avoids repetition and means that children develop their skills in an age-appropriate way. This progression allows pupils to grow in confidence as they develop new skills.
In addition to the outdoor learning programme, children in Key Stage 2 experience additional adventurous activities and residential visits. During these experiences, children develop their independence through a carefully planned programme, which builds on a progression of skills. This programme allows them to build life skills associated with staying away from home, to socialise and collaborate with others, to build confidence and stamina, and to appreciate the environment where they live. Each year group also takes part in a day’s fell walk. These increase in distance and height as the children progress through the year groups.
Each year group has allocated time in the curriculum for using the school grounds, although this should not affect outdoor learning experiences taking place at other times. Outdoor learning also takes place in all kinds of weather, although the woods are out of bounds in high winds. Teachers will inform parents of outdoor learning days in advance, so that they can provide the appropriate clothing to keep children comfortable and warm.
Teachers provide documentation of the outdoor learning covered each term through photographic evidence. These should cross-reference with the key skills for each year group. Teachers follow the risk assessments and procedures outlined in the Progression of Skills booklet and there are planned opportunities to ensure that teachers are able to deliver these skills safely. Teachers who feel unconfident about delivering an area of the outdoor curriculum should call on the expertise of others within school to support them. Staff should continue to share expertise and best practice regularly.
Where should outdoor learning take place?
The School Grounds
We are lucky to have a large outdoor area including a woodland area, pond, amphitheatre, willow maze, playground with markings, meadow and fields. They offer excellent opportunities for both formal and informal learning and play.
The Local Environment
The locality around the school harbours a wealth of opportunities within an accessible distance. Learners can develop their skills to explore their local environment and to appreciate its uniqueness. This can enrich all areas of the curriculum, for example, through land and streetscapes, sites of special scientific interest, heritage sites, places of worship, theatres, live music events and involvement through citizenship activities like volunteering projects.
Places further afield
As young people mature, they are able to gain confidence in and appreciate the benefits of more distant and challenging environments. For example, through visits to contrasting, in our case, urban areas, field study and environmental centres, theatres, places of worship, farms, museums and galleries. Our Year Six students visit London to explore an urban wilderness where they visit theatres, cafes, and famous London landmarks. They have to manage their own safety in a busy environment as well as staying away from home for four nights.
Staying away from home is a powerful way of developing keys life skills, building confidence, self-esteem, communication and team working, for example. For instance, through staying away at outdoor centres such as Hawes End and Fellside, provides children with an opportunity to widen their range of experiences and find new skills and interests in which they may excel, enhancing their ability to attain, achieve or simply improve the aesthetic or health aspects of their later life. Other benefits included improved pupil/pupil and pupil/staff relationships and improved resilience and independence of the children.
Health and Safety
Society needs to strike a reasonable balance between the value of experiences and levels of acceptable risk.
In the first instance, the schools policies relating to Health and Safety and Risk Assessment should be referred to and applied prior to any outdoor learning activity that may require additional support beyond the reasonable activities one would normally apply within the classroom. It is also important that the school applies robust safety to effectively manage and minimise risks. It is equally important, however, that all involved, including parents, acknowledge that a degree of residual risk remains.
There are specific school risk assessments for tree climbing, lighting a fire, using a Ghillie kettle, cooking on a fire and den building. More generic risk assessments are available from the Kym Allen website.
All trips taken outside the school grounds need passing by the Educational Visits Co-ordinator. All documentation for this process is on the Kym Allen website: www.kymallenhsc.co.uk. These ideally need filling in two weeks before the trip takes place. In the case of adventurous activities, including those involving water, 4 to 6 weeks in advance is advisable.