As schools all over the UK prepare to mark Outdoor Classroom Day tomorrow by taking their learning outdoors, we are reminded of the value of outdoor education. We all share the same concerns around the amount of time our nation’s young people spend outdoors and active. We worry that many of our young people aren’t able to access rural environments, and miss out on the learning opportunities and knowledge that can be provided by our natural spaces.
It’s nine years since the Scottish government published Curriculum for Excellence through outdoor learning, and since then the evidence on the benefits of outdoor learning has continued to grow. Yet, we don’t have a national picture of how much time Scottish pupils spend outdoors, as there is no requirement for our schools to record that information. We estimate that through Scouts alone, young people have nearly 1 million outdoor learning experiences per year in Scotland.
We also face the challenge that, while there is a plethora of guidance on how to take your class outdoors, teachers' confidence to do so is another matter. How do we give teachers the skills to get through a busy curriculum in the outdoors?
A teacher’s view: ‘It’s time for schools to embrace outdoor learning’
Why are we all so risk-averse? Surely the idea of living a life in bubble-wrap is even scarier
In Scouts, we have always celebrated the outdoor classroom. Learning by doing, in the outdoors, is at the heart of everything we do. The values of Curriculum for Excellence – challenge, enjoyment, relevance, depth, development of the whole person and an adventurous approach – are core to our model.
We work together with schools to help young people access the outdoor classroom in a number of ways; last year, 26,000 young people used our Scout Adventures centres in Scotland for a residential trip. But we want to see outdoor learning as more than just that once-a-year trip for the P7s. That means more primary schools building a polytunnel and fire pit for all of their pupils to use, and more high schools working with us to deliver the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award to more pupils.
In Fife, we have started working with a primary school to improve outdoor learning provision across the school. This began with P5 children who had their first experience of a residential trip, and has expanded from there. Children from all age groups are now participating in day visits and staff are attending both full-day and ad hoc training sessions in aspects of outdoor education.
While the children are climbing the high ropes, the teachers are learning how to build dens or how to lead a nature walk and, importantly, how all of these link back to the curriculum. This gives the teachers the confidence and the skills to continue outdoor learning once they go back to school.
That’s just one example, though. There is so much expertise and experience out there to help give teachers the confidence to go outdoors, so see what’s available locally – because we need to get more young people heading outdoors to develop the skills they need for life.
Neil Baird is centre manager for Scout Adventures Lochgoilhead