A breath of fresh air

outdoor education is the latest aspect of learning to stake its claim as a key part of the curriculum reform programme.

The considerable benefits of outdoor education should be trumpeted rather than a disproportionate emphasis placed on risk, David Cameron, director of children's services for Stirling Council and chair of the outdoor connections advisory group, argued last week.

He said outdoor specialists should also receive assistance in understanding the demands of the curriculum to make sure they tailored their experiences to meet these requirements.

A new report, Taking learning outdoors - partnerships for excellence, launched by the advisory group last week, challenges all educators to maximise the learning experiences from the outdoors, according to Willie White, Learning and Teaching Scotland's development officer for outdoor education.

"This is necessary for better learning, better health and well-being and better sustainable living and working for children and young people," he said.

The report, launched simultaneously at professional development events in Perth and Fort William, said outdoor learning has tended to be a combination of adventure and environmental activities, often carried on outside school hours and linked to a limited range of subjects, such as expressive arts, environmental education and PSE.

"It was frequently driven by one or more enthusiastic outdoor types on the staff and, as such, was unsustainable and often only accessed by a minority of pupils." But outdoor learning should be much broader, said the report.

It noted that the outdoor classroom could be found in a variety of locations: school grounds, urban spaces, rural or city farms, parks, gardens, woodlands, coasts, outdoor centres, wilderness areas and more.

"In this context, outdoor education is no longer seen as just adventure or environmental activities, but as a teaching approach outdoors which can enhance and integrate a huge range of activities across the curriculum - activities which connect learners with their environment, their community, their society and themselves.

"It engages and motivates learners through first-hand experiences which demonstrate the relevance of knowledge and understanding."

The report quoted the National Foundation for Educational Research review of 150 outdoor learning studies worldwide between 1993 and 2003, which found evidence that outdoor learning had a positive impact on long-term memory. It also reinforced links between the affective and the cognitive, with each influencing the other and providing a bridge to higher order learning.

The researchers also concluded that outdoor learning fostered the development of specific academic skills, as well as improved engagement, achievement and stronger motivation to learn.

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