Outdoor learning is the perfect combinations of nature, wellbeing and education. In the last few years, many families have been considering alternative forms of education for their children, when mainstream education doesn’t fully comply with their needs and values. That is why educational approaches such as Outdoor Learning or 'Forest Schools' are gaining increasing popularity in the UK and many other parts of the world.
Outdoor Learning is defined by the Institute for Outdoor Learning as “an umbrella term for actively inclusive facilitated approaches that predominantly use activities and experiences in the outdoors which lead to learning, increased health and wellbeing and environmental awareness”. Through this learning method, children receive an extensive education that combines time both inside and outside the classroom, using spaces such as playgrounds, parks, forest or the seaside to provide an extensive and more comprehensive learning.
In their report published in the Government UK website, The Natural Connection Demonstration project has provided new evidence in regards to the benefits of Outdoor Learning for students: 95% of children surveyed said outdoor learning makes lessons more enjoyable, 90% said they felt happier and healthier and 72% of children said they got on better with others. Many schools in the UK are now implementing new strategies to incorporate learning outdoors into mainstream teaching. In addition, many home schooling families are also integrating this approach into their children’s academic routines, as they have more freedom to take learning outside of a conventional classroom and get stuck in!
Outdoor Learning is a fantastic way for children to socialise and learn in more interactive and comprehensive ways. It’s not only a great medium to cover topics related to nature, but it can also provide a healthy and relaxed environment to teach students about social sciences, introduce mindfulness, develop analytical skills, and explore different sports and physical activities. Moreover, Verbal and Non Verbal Reasoning and Maths can also be taught outdoors through a more ludic and interactive method. For instance, 5 year old students can be asked to separate leaves, rocks and sticks from a small radius and then count how many of each they can find. Alternatively, older students can learn about photosynthesis, or how to identify animal tracks. Some other ideas for outdoor learning can be found on the website Twinkl, where there is a wide variety of resources and activities.
Many educators and families implementing outdoor learning approaches have outlined that learning in nature has been key in the development of problem-solving and critical thinking skills in many students. They state it has also encouraged resilience, teamwork and a wider appreciation for nature – both in relation to wildlife and surroundings. Some proven benefits of Outdoor Learning include:
Personal and social development
An increased sense of environmental awareness and sense of social and animal justice
Improvement of the immune system, a better general health and the establishment of positive routines
Improvement of behaviour, self-esteem, conflict resolution, relationship with peers, motivation and problem solving
Higher development of psychomotor skills
An increased sense of connection to nature and appreciation of their surroundings
Fun activities and amazing experiences!
Some useful resources for Outdoor Learning include:
Apps: Eco-Explorer (Steven Lewis-Neill – Ages 5+), Garden Game for Kids (Bubadu – Ages 5+) or Meet the Insects: Village Edition (NCSoft – Ages 4+)
Books: Urban Forest School by Naomi Walmsley (for Early Years and Primary), Dirty Teaching: A Beginner’s Guide to Learning Outdoors by Juliet Robertson
As part of a research on learning numeracy through nature, Hannah Titley, founder and director of the Home Schooling Association remarked the following: “Understanding Maths and Science involves studying the world around us. Learning outdoors is hands-on, enjoyable and helps children to make links between the theories that they learn in the classroom and their practical applications. Lessons outdoors can involve finding symmetry in nature, collecting data on plants and animals, and outdoor play activities involving patterns and relationships. As a Science teacher myself, I think it's an incredibly valuable part of the curriculum and one that is often overlooked in schools.”
Many places in the UK offer activities and wilderness camps for children to be introduced to Outdoor Learning; for instance, Camp Wilderness in Hertfordshire and Kent, The Hive, in several places in London such as Blackheath or Sevenoaks, The Visionaries, in Lake District or Mill on the Blue in Somerset. All of these places offer children the opportunity to explore nature, socialise while spending time outdoors and develop healthier learning routines. It’s a fantastic way of making new friends and having a restful break from technology and academic pressure.
Encouraging children to learn outdoors helps to improve resilience, develop strategies to tackle desk-based tasks, and become more mentally attuned with their surroundings. In times where climate change and environmental issues are on the agenda, it is also a great chance to teach young people about taking better care of the planet. There's no better time to take learning outdoors than the present!