Want to protect the environment? Try outdoor lessons

Children no longer spend their half-term holidays roaming the great outdoors – so we need to take them outside at school, says Colin Harris

Boy looks through hole in large leaf

Half-term in 2020 is very different from the half-term holidays I experienced as a child. 

For me, it was a time to explore the great outdoors. Dawn to dusk, no matter what the weather, we were outside.

We might venture inside to eat occasionally, but then we were quickly back outside again. There were no TVs or computer games to keep us indoors. 

Instead, exploration and fun were our games. We were continually taking risks and pushing ourselves to the limit, both physically and mentally.

Of course, it’s different today. But the importance of exploration, risk-taking and fun have not waned.

An outdoor curriculum

So has there ever been a time when there’s been a greater need for an outdoor curriculum to be adopted by every school, up and down the country? 

Roald Dahl once said: “The more risks you allow children to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves.” And, yes, we need to let children take risks.

An outdoor curriculum is an opportunity to offer risk in a risk-assessed way.

The benefits are wide-ranging. But they can best be summed up in the fact that it inspires a love for the great outdoors, which can then grow into lifelong enjoyment of – and protection of – our outdoor environment.

A decent, well-planned outdoor curriculum can ensure our pupils appreciate that learning can take place anywhere, and is not simply a two-dimensional activity, confined to the classroom. 

An outdoor curriculum can help children to develop resilience and adaptability, and to recognise the difference between risk and hazard. These are all essential skills for children. 

Children’s self-awareness and confidence also increase – which in turn enhances their self-esteem. 

And, of course, there are all the physical health benefits of being outdoors rather than cooped up inside.

Away from the limitations of the classroom

Those schools that provide regular outdoor education can point to an improvement in grades and also to a decrease in stress levels.

Behaviour is also improved, as well as communication skills and the ability to work as a part of a team.

My school developed a comprehensive outdoor provision. Yes, we had the grounds and facilities for it. But, on my travels, I have seen schools with limited outdoor space offer wonderful outdoor education all the same. 

Outdoor education gets away from the limitations of the classroom and allows those not gifted academically to come to the fore in other ways.

Now, more than ever, we need to teach children about the environment. All pupils see the news and can see the floods or the excessive temperature fluctuations we are experiencing at the moment. 

So it is essential that we develop in all our pupils a love for the outdoors and a willingness to explore it, so that, hopefully, they can help preserve it for the next generation. 

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories

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