Why you should give your curriculum some fresh air

Georgina Masefield

Akeley Wood School’s newly-appointed head Georgina Masefield has an extensive background in education, with experience in consultancy, school inspections and managing headteachers. Georgina believes in the potential of every child and in providing a committed, family friendly and safe community which nurtures individual self-worth, wellbeing and a sense of belonging, while preparing children for a successful future beyond education.

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Images courtesy of author. Images courtesy of author.

Over the years, several studies have revealed the benefit - even necessity - of spending time outdoors and when the great outdoors is combined with education, it can have vast benefits. Learning outside can help provide a holistic approach towards learning with immense academic, social and emotional benefits for students. Although most children go on school trips several times a year, they don’t often get the opportunity to enjoy nature as part of their school day, which means they could be missing out on opportunities to excel both academically and socially.

Here at Akeley Wood School, we firmly believe that children can benefit immeasurably from being outdoors during their school day. We are so convinced of the benefits of outdoor learning, we have embedded outdoor learning into all stages of the curriculum from Nursery School to Sixth Form.

Every child in our Nursery and Junior School participate in our accredited Forest School facility. In Senior School we have implemented an outdoor learning facility for those in Years 7 and 8, with a “Children can see, smell, hear and touch nature throughout the day.”purpose built wooden outdoor classroom, a large fire circle with seating, an assortment of garden beds, a small pond, a low ropes course and designated areas in the woods. For Year 9 upwards, children are encouraged to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme.

Given that most children learn better by using their senses and through hands-on experiences, providing them with the opportunity to learn in the natural environment gives them the chance to immerse themselves in the natural world. Instead of viewing different types of plants or wildlife on a computer or on a TV screen, children and young people can see, smell, hear and touch nature throughout the day. All our outdoor facilities benefit from the serenity and beauty of our woodland settings across three sites, which we’re lucky to have as part of our grounds.

We have found that giving pupils the chance to connect with the natural world provides endless opportunities to develop creativity and improve fitness which has a positive impact on their overall performance at school and behaviour at home. Children take advantage of activities ranging from shelter building to learning how to make ropes from locally sourced materials, understanding how to erect tents, use fire sensibly, grow their own vegetable gardens and learn how to use various tools. Activities need to be child-led, allowing students – even the youngest - to generate their own ideas about the activities they participate in. By working at their own pace in a stimulating, safe but challenging natural environment which allows them to understand and appreciate their surroundings.

The children also get a chance to get closer to animals. For example, at Junior School we are about to acquire chickens and rabbits. The students will contribute to looking after the animals and to being responsible for their welfare. For our children in Year 1, they will be involved in observing and caring for hatching eggs in an incubator and then releasing the chicks into the pen: all vital lessons in the animal’s life cycle in real time.

Outdoor activities not only teach children important life skills, but are specifically designed to improve skills such as communication, teamwork, perseverance, balance, coordination, risk taking and a general knowledge and appreciation of our surroundings. Children work together, learning how to manage conflicts, communicate, and cooperate with their peers in a more effective manner or spend time alone, problem-solving and investigating the world around them at their own pace.

Building on early experiences, many of our young people at Akeley Wood Senior School decide to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. We are one of the UK’s largest accredited centres with students“We visit places such as the Brecon Beacons and the North Yorkshire Moors.” undertaking Bronze, Silver and Gold, and visiting places such as the Brecon Beacons and the North Yorkshire Moors. By opening their eyes to the benefit of working in the natural world and challenging individuals to take responsibility for their own learning, our pupils are keen to take on other challenges and the Duke of Edinburgh scheme provides them with the opportunity to embark on an exciting and memorable adventure.

We are looking forward to developing our outdoor learning scheme further, which will help children and young people learn skills that will stay with them for life.

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