This week I have been attending a conference on education, online of course. A point was made that I wanted to explore.
The speaker, who was fairly high up in education, said that they had not seen outdoor learning that could transfer to support indoor learning. It occurred to me that if someone who helps shape the curriculum and learning at a national level feels this, there is likely many more who do as well. It was time to explore this!
Back in 2017, the Department of Education was petitioned to introduce a GCSE in natural history, where children experienced hands-on study in the field, they turned it down. They said a lot of the content would be covered by other subjects. Yet, the key thing missing was that the learning would be indoors, hands-off, with no real experience of the natural world.
But can you truly understand the natural world, how different habitats connect and all the intricacies of nature without actually observing them? Can we understand how to write just by reading? Or, how to add numbers together without first using objects? How can we comprehend how plants grow just by reading it without experiencing that awe of the seedlings emerging from the soil from the seeds you planted? How can we observe how habitats connect from reading a paragraph?
For me, all this learning is interconnected. It is simply learning. There seems to be a disconnect—a hesitancy to view learning as learning, regardless of the location. I wondered if it might be to do with the disconnect many people have towards nature. Viewing it as something separate from themselves. Louv talks about nature deficit disorder and how we, as a species, have disconnected from nature and view it as something apart from ourselves, forgetting we are, in fact, part of it.
We repeatedly teach children that we are separate from nature, something above it. We remove words related to the natural world from our dictionaries. Kimmerer explains that we put a barrier between us and nature, calling trees it, which absolves us from a sense of responsibility. We separate ourselves from nature from a young age; could this lead to people viewing outdoor and indoor learning as two separate entities?
Fägerstam undertook a longitudinal study and found that outdoor learning, even just in a school playground, can significantly impact indoor learning. All students increased their participation in class work; this seemed to benefit shy students, particularly. Outdoor learning can help children understand concepts by relating them to the everyday world outwith the classroom. In summary, they talked about outdoor learning and indoor learning as simply being holistic learning.
This is a view I appreciate. To me, learning is learning. This notion of indoor learning and outdoor learning as two totally separate entities does not sit comfortably with me or my experiences. I have seen children playing games outdoors that helped them progress with their timetables, write a beautiful poem whilst sat under a tree, experience the awe and investigate the why of a rocket shooting up into the sky.
Times tables, forces and writing could all be classed as indoor learning, yet the learning happened in the outdoors. The same learning. The same facts and understandings. The location that it took place was irrelevant. The activities both indoors and outdoors supported the learning.
I have seen children achieve things they didn’t think they could, whether that was being out in the rain, growing a plant, climbing a tree or abseiling down a wall. Or writing a poem and sounding out the word excellent when they struggled to write their own name, getting their head around 5-minute intervals in a clock in the playground, using a book to find out information about a bird in front of them and identifying it. All of these things benefit their mindset, can develop their confidence. This, in turn, helps support their learning, regardless of where that learning takes place.