Why outdoor learning should remain an important filling in the already jam-packed and fully-squeezed school sandwich of teaching and learning.
How are we going to fit it all in with everything else? How can we afford to introduce outdoor learning with tighter budgets and funding cuts? These are all-to familiar questions I am often asked. As a teacher of over 18 years, I fully understand the situation heads and their teaching team are in and the pressures they face. I totally understand the need for classroom-based learning and progression in academics. I also fully comprehend the value of outdoor learning and the benefits this approach can add to the ever-increasing educational sandwich that educators are having to swallow.
In an ever-demanding curriculum sandwich, I have put together 3 simple steps to add outdoor learning into your educational week and how to overcome these common concerns.
Step 1: Take it outside
Outdoor Learning is not an extra subject that ‘needs to be fit in somehow and somewhere along with everything else.’ It’s a new way of teaching what we already teach in a new, enriching environment. Many current learning objectives can be taught outdoors, taking advantage of a ‘real-life’ learning environment. Resources between year groups can easily be ‘pooled’ and parents are often all too happy to donate unwanted items such as old weighing scales or pallets. Often the best lessons are the simplest and just require a little bit of creative thinking to sow a seed of thought in the children’s heads. Encouraging imagination, experimentation and trial and error helps to improve a child’s problem solving skills, independence and self confidence, not to mention meeting the learning objective in hand. Why not highlight any objectives in your current schemes of work that could be better taught outdoors and step outside?
Step 2: Develop the ‘whole child’
When outside, not only are the children involved in a more engaging and practical way of learning, they develop valuable skills and confidence, facilitating holistic development. It is well documented that society as a whole is suffering from an increase in anxiety and stress. Outdoor learning is not only proven to improve a child’s motivation to learn, spending time outdoors helps to relieve stress and tension for children and teachers alike. Moreover, outdoor learning can engage a whole new world of skills and mindfulness which would otherwise be redundant sat at desks inside. Once you start to take lessons outdoors, you will start to see your pupils in a new light. Think outside of the box to facilitate a creative approach to learning which draws upon a variety of subjects, topics, skills and experiences. You’ll be covering all of those ‘must-do’ objectives with ease and in fun ways. The children will become more responsive and more engaged with their learning.
Step 3: Become confident
Schools are obviously concerned what inspectors will report and want to highlight and improve progression their pupils have been making in core subjects. Great. How about proving you’re innovative educators too, who not only ‘add value’, but also have a creative way of teaching which empowers students through experiential and practical curriculum-linked learning. I’ve been teaching full-time outdoors through two full inspections and the inspectors reported the outdoor learning on both occasions to be extremely valuable. Consequently, they graded both the sessions and the school as a whole as outstanding both times. Moreover, new research is proving that regular outdoor learning feeds into improved academics back inside of the classroom. Surely over time, a little investment in resources, courses and confidence in outdoor provision is worth the extensive benefits for your school, the children and the staff? Efficient and engaging outdoor learning is sure to put a smile on inspector’s faces as well as the children’s.
One last piece of advice: don’t feel you need to bite off more than you can chew. Take the steps above one bite at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be chewing on the full sandwich of outdoor learning and swallowing the benefits.