I, like all teachers, had heard for some time about the benefits of outdoor learning. But I’ll be honest, it wasn’t something that I had given too much thought to, and I sort of went through the motions for a number of years. Moving school a couple of years ago changed my view on its merits, however, and opened my eyes to the wonderful learning experiences children can have.
There has been a fair amount of research done around the benefits of learning in the outdoors. Granted, not all schools have huge or even suitable grounds to use, but even small spaces can help to bring learning alive and allow exploration and creativity to take place in new ways.
Something I had failed to understand in previous years was the benefits outdoor learning can bring in developing the “whole child”: in areas such as self-confidence, social skills, motivation and concentration, not to mention an improvement in language and communication skills.
Often, children who struggle more within the restrictions of the classroom flourish in outdoor spaces, where they may feel less constrained and more independent in their learning and discovering. Outdoor learning gives a chance to observe the whole child in a different context, and provides the children with opportunities to offer ideas and questions spontaneously rather than always responding to adult questions within the confines of the classroom.
Outdoor learning creates opportunities
What’s more, when children see adults having fun and appearing more relaxed in their teaching – as is often the case once they get outside – this has an impact on how children view their learning overall. A child in my class, with a history of negative school experiences, saw me running around during a competitive orienteering game, and commented to the gym teacher that he’d never seen a teacher play with the class before, and how nice it was. This was helping to break down long-established negative associations of the teacher role.
The thing I love most about outdoor learning is seeing my class in a different light. Child roles can shift, and differences between pupils that may have arisen in the classroom might not arise outside. I’ve watched children who are happy to go with the flow in a classroom environment really come out and lead during outdoor learning. And I’ve seen children who don’t always participate well during talking and listening sessions in class show excellent communication skills during outdoor learning. All this has changed how I assess my pupils in these areas: outdoor learning is giving more opportunities to achieve.
Children need space to learn and do certain things on a bigger scale. The outdoors gives them room to be noisy, messy, to run, jump, climb and move in different ways. They can engage with their senses and embrace the different outside elements throughout the whole year, not just when the sun is shining (a particular boon in the west of Scotland, of course). I’ve also seen a difference in what children like to do at weekends: more children are now including their families in outdoor activities.
I suppose the point in writing this is that, if you were like me and a little hesitant about getting started then please throw on your waterproofs and get stuck in. The children will learn so much from it – and you’ll learn so much about them.
Adam Black is a primary teacher in Scotland. He tweets @adam_black23