“It is just some chalk on the ground; it isn’t really outdoor learning.”
This is a phrase I occasionally hear. It leaves me wondering what outdoor learning is to that person. Outdoor learning, a term often synonymous with expansive green spaces and forest school activities, has a more profound and diverse history than what meets the eye. It’s a powerful educational tool that can thrive even in concrete inner-city environments. In this series of blogs, we begin by exploring the history of outdoor learning. It will help us understand why people view outdoor learning in a particular light. Blog two will examine why outdoor learning in concrete matters and its benefits. This series’ final blog will share activities and lesson ideas for the concrete environment. In doing so, we hope to equip teachers with a fresh perspective on how outdoor learning can benefit their students in a world where nature is not always readily accessible.
The Roots of Outdoor Learning in Scotland
Outdoor learning in Scotland has a history that stretches back to the 1500s (Houston, 2002), a time when wolves still roamed the land. By 1860, one in five schools in Scotland operated as adventure schools (Cruikshank, 1967). While debates persist regarding the long-term impact of these schools on the broader outdoor learning movement (Baker, 2016), they highlight a historical emphasis on education beyond the classroom.
The early 1900s brought growing concerns about the health and well-being of children due to urbanisation and industrialisation. Changes in diet and exercise patterns prompted fears of chronic diseases in later life (Gracey, 2007). This era saw the emergence of the concept that “fresh air” was beneficial, culminating in the Education (Scotland) Act of 1908.
The Mid to Late 1900s: Shaping Outdoor Education
While outdoor activities and summer camps existed before the 1960s, they often lacked educational aims (Baker, 2016). The term “outdoor learning” was not commonly used in Scotland (Baker, 2016).
However, the 1960s marked a significant shift. Glenmore Lodge introduced programs that aimed to cultivate an interest in the countryside through field studies (Nicol, 2002). This period paved the way for a broader view of learning that extended beyond the confines of the classroom. In 1971, the National Association of Outdoor Education (NAOE) defined outdoor learning as a methodological approach (Nicol, 2002). The 1980s witnessed a transformation in outdoor learning, focusing on safety and integrating outdoor learning into the school curriculum (Nicol, 2002).
The 1990s and Noughties: Curriculum Integration
The 1990s saw a new curriculum in Scotland, promoting environmental studies and encouraging outdoor centres to support academic learning (Baker, 2016). This shift, partly driven by financial pressures related to the administration of outdoor centres (Nicol, 2002), further connected outdoor learning with academic objectives.
The Curriculum for Excellence, launched in 2010, solidified outdoor learning as an integral part of a student’s education, emphasising its role across the curriculum (Baker, 2016).
The Picture Today: A Diverse Approach to Outdoor Learning
Today, outdoor learning encompasses various activities, ranging from outdoor play to adventure therapy, as defined by Greenaway (2005). Although the definition is broad, the Scottish Government recognises outdoor learning as a crucial component of the curriculum, as evident in various policy documents.
Within Successful Approaches to Learning Outdoors, the term outdoor learning is widely used. “In this report, the term’ outdoor learning’ encompasses the entire range of learning experiences undertaken outside, whether it is reading a book outside or participating in an overseas expedition. This report recognises the place of the full spectrum of outdoor learning experiences.”
Outdoor learning has evolved into learning about the outdoors and children learning in the outdoors.
The Role of Concrete in Outdoor Learning
Research has shown that approximately 97% of primary schools in Scotland have concrete play areas, with less than a third having access to natural green spaces (McKendrick, 2005). Simply put, if we do not make use of the concrete environment, we will not be able to meet Education Scotland and HMIe’s expectations that “all children and young people are participating in a range of progressive and creative outdoor learning experiences which are clearly part of the curriculum”.
In this series, we aim to challenge preconceived notions about outdoor learning and illustrate that concrete environments are not a hindrance but a canvas for unique and meaningful learning experiences. Our journey continues in the next blog, exploring why outdoor learning in concrete environments is suitable and essential and the myriad benefits it offers. Stay tuned for practical activities and lesson ideas to inspire outdoor learning in these urban settings.
Love Outdoor Learning is dedicated to supporting outdoor learning and play in schools and nurseries. We offer membership resources, publications, on-site support, and training programs to empower educators. Visit our website to discover how we can help you create enriching outdoor experiences for your students. Let’s embrace the beauty of outdoor learning together!
Baker, M., 2016. Policy Development of Outdoor Education in Scotland. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh.
Cruikshank, M., 1967. The Argyll commission report 1865–8: A landmark in Scottish education. British Journal of Educational Studies, 15(2), pp. 133-147.
Education Scotland, 2022. Successful Approaches to Learning Outside, Edinburgh: Education Scotland.
Gracey, M., 2007. Child health in an urbanizing world. Acta Paediatrica, 91(1), pp. 1-8.
Greenaway, R., 2005. What is outdoor learning.. [Online]
Available at: https://www.outdoor-learning-research.org/Research/What-is-Outdoor-Learning
[Accessed 23 July 2022].
Houston, R. A., 2002. Scottish literacy and the Scottish identity: illiteracy and society in Scotland and Northern England, 1600-1800 (Vol. 4). s.l.:Cambridge University Press.
McKendrick, J., 2005. Scottish School Grounds Survey, Roslin: sportscotland, Play Scotland and Grounds for Learning.
Nicol, R., 2002b. Outdoor Education:Research Topic or Universal Value? Part Two. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 2(2), pp. 85 – 99.
Nicol, R., 2002. Outdoor Education: Research Topic or Universal Value? Part One. Journal ~’Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 2(1), pp. 29-41.