As a teacher and educator it is my job to help support every child within the classroom. My job to engage them and help them believe in themselves. When I spend hours planning lessons it is not to make them fun for me, but to ensure they are motivating for the children, taking into account their learning styles and needs.
But for some children, I had to recognise, despite spending hours doing this, the classroom could still be a place of failure. This was their mindset. It is not a nice, nor a comfortable realisation for a teacher to make. But have a look at your class, is there a child within it who fits that description? Is there a child being limited by the confines of the classroom?
This is where I fell in love with outdoor learning. Put simply, it removed those barriers.
Whilst working in an autism unit the children there had such varied needs. Some needed quiet, others noise, some needed space and yet others required the enclosed environment of a work station.
But taking these children outside a lot of the individual needs fell away. They could focus. I remember one maths lesson where we were learning about capacity. The children were struggling with this, and often, when I have a class and can see a struggle, I take them outside. I provided them with different containers and a supply of water. Then I stepped back.
To begin, the children took joy in simply filling the buckets and transferring water. I then asked which bucket held the least amount of water and which the most? Could they order them? Can they prove their thoughts? Again, I stepped back.
I watched as the class started working together to solve this problem. They worked out the smaller tubs held less than the bigger tubs. Suddenly capacity was real and making sense to them. Yes, they got wet, but they learned so much that day. And, kids do not melt, they dry off!
Another session I recall was taking a class which included a reluctant 7 year old outside for writing. He would avoid putting pen to paper at all costs. But outside he seemed to settle. This session was on poetry. He came over to me after being sat for a while, “Miss, how do I spell excellent?” Well of course, I asked him to try and sound it out. I reassured him I didn’t care if he got it wrong as I was so proud of him for trying. I stepped back.
And this wee boy, who would often refuse to write his own name, sat down and tried his very best to sound out excellent. When he achieved not only the word, but the poem, the smile on his wee face was immense. He realised he could write. He was more open to it in the classroom after that.
And the third story I wish to share with you today was about a group of high school boys. They were at risk of falling out of the system. They were not engaged, their behaviour could be challenging when they did actually attend class, which was rare.
This group I started in the classroom before I took them off site to the woods. We started planning activities and with short walks. At the end of every session we would enjoy a hot chocolate where the young people slowly learned to relax and open up about their lives and difficulties they faced. They led the conversation, the adults supported them.
Quickly, you could see an improvement in their behaviour. With them often asking the lead teacher (which was not myself, I merely provided the experiences as an outdoor consultant), when they were going back out with “the wee wumin”.
We built up week on week, with us building dens and creating art work. The young people realised time outdoors soothed them, it soothed the staff as well!
The final week came, the week to have a full day outside. The young people cooked lunch on the campfire they built and tended. It was a cold day and they kept it burning throughout. We took the knives out and started teaching them knife skills and whittling. We let them play.
Again, we stepped back and trusted them. The repaid our trust in spades, not only in the woods but also thereafter in class.
These experiences taught me that outdoor learning, whether curricular based or more traditional, can make a real difference to children and young people. It really should be a part of every educators tool kit.
If the walls provide a barrier to learning then it is our job to remove those barriers.