Talk about fresh air isn't just hot air

2nd November 2012 at 00:00

An enduring cliche in British dramas about disaffected youth is the scene where they visit the countryside. Suddenly, the transformative power of the landscape takes hold, and the teenagers' daily troubles shrink in the face of eternal nature.

One of the few films to tear this convention apart is Trainspotting. In it, the trip to the countryside ends with the protagonist yelling that "all the fresh air in the world won't make any fucking difference".

Cynics might be tempted to repeat that line when faced with the more ardent supporters of outdoor learning. The benefits they claim for it can seem woolly, overblown or borderline magical. Given a choice between ensuring a class can read and spending an hour on a ramble saying "Hello trees, hello flowers", it would be understandable if teachers wanted to give the nature walk a miss.

Yet some of the research from the past decade on the impact of greenery on young people is genuinely extraordinary.

One study last year, reported in TESpro ("Why the grass should be greener", 19 October), found that taking pupils with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder on 20-minute walks in a city park had a comparable impact on their behaviour to giving them Ritalin.

Other studies have succeeded in factoring out the class element - in one case by randomly assigning pupils to live in high-rise buildings with varying amounts of greenery nearby - and still found a correlation between access to nature and improved behaviour and results.

Even in urban areas, getting pupils outside or adding some greenery around the site appears to have an impact. So the benefits are not just of relevance to rural schools or those with handy glades nearby.

This may seem an opportunity for another moan about how the curriculum prevents such activities. But one of the few things we have been told about the planned primary curriculum is that it will introduce a greater emphasis on nature in science.

And opportunities for outdoor learning should not just be limited to primary pupils, either. As the research indicates, fresh air does make a difference, after all.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a TES/ TESS subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


Get Tes online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to Tes online and the Tes app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off Tes Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the Tes online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order today