Do British pupils get enough of the outdoors during lesson time? What can al fresco teaching offer both students and teachers? Natalie Harling, the Outward Bound Trust’s head of education development, explains why a bit of fresh air can do the education system a lot of good.
Being outdoors is good for you. This is something we are taught from an early age that fresh air and exercise, both indoors and outdoors, are beneficial to our wellbeing. However, as teachers we usually associate the outdoors with playtime, free time and enjoyment. It’s Friday, it’s half term, it’s the summer holidays – and perhaps not as the impactful outdoor place of learning that it can be.
In order to get the most out of a pupil’s mind, they need to be put into a productive environment. Sam Flatman, sales & marketing director at Pentagon, gives his reasons why pupils need to get outside in order to properly develop their minds.
Our kids need more than a concrete jungle - they need a colourful space for their rough and tumble, and to be immersed in the natural environment. Studies show this helps their brain develop just as much as it helps their body. While we can be reluctant to take children out of the classroom – especially as places in those top secondary schools and colleges become increasingly competitive – through innovation and design, playgrounds are being transformed into important learning environments.
The idea of using digital technology outdoors continues to produce an interesting array of feelings from educators. The spectrum seems to range between love and loathing, freedom and fear, or curiosity and curtailment. For me, the lure of a tablet being part of an outdoor activity is the untapped possibilities that we have yet to discover. The value of experimenting and exploring the world around us through a digital eye is worth the time invested. It’s not because I want to see a child glued to a screen outside. It's because I know for some children a mobile device provides alternative ways of exploring the environment which may spark a life-long interest.
There is nothing quite like visiting schools, nurseries and other childcare settings to gain ideas and inspiration. I’m always delighted when I get this opportunity. Sometimes, I am asked about good places to see. In my opinion it is not possible to find a “perfect” outdoor space. Instead I look for elements of good practice, which are worth reflecting upon and remembering. This might be how free flow play is set up in less than ideal circumstances. Or it could be how a muddy area has been developed with children fully involved.
The places that have truly got going with learning and play outside, perceive their outdoor spaces as ongoing works in progress. There is a continuous commitment to valuing and actively using an outdoor space as a place for learning and play. It is a mixture of ethos, physical improvements and careful thought about the variety and potential of a range of activities to happen in an outdoor space.
When visiting another school or establishment, these are my top tips:
Photo credit: striatic
Religious Education for our younger pupils is often associated with exploring festivals but, with a bit of imagination and some good resources, RE can be much more than that.
Spring is the perfect time to make the most of the outdoor learning environment. With many nursery settings and KS1 classes enjoying topics linked to the natural world at this time of year, it is important to recognise that religious education can make an enjoyable and worthwhile contribution. Popular topics such as Mini-Beasts, Gardens, Our World, The Park, Animals, Birds, New-life and Spring all lend themselves well to RE.
However, to ensure that we are properly including RE in our topic planning, we must first identify what makes RE distinct from Personal, Social, and Emotional aspects of learning and Cultural understanding – areas with which RE often gets confused!
One of the most important things children must learn about is the environment in which we all live. How the food chain works, how nature is a force, which works in ways we don’t know about and don’t think about as much as we should, how for every action there is a reaction.
In this day and age of computer games and the internet, children must be encouraged to appreciate our great outdoors, to learn how to cherish and enjoy it, and take care of our future generations, and how something as simple as a nature sign can spark an interest, which hopefully lasts a lifetime.
Learning about our environment is one of the most important things we can pass on to children, and the reason outdoor classrooms are springing up all over our schools.