Outdoor learning is a term that is used to describe a wide variety of learning opportunities that take place outside the traditional classroom. Outdoor learning can take many different forms, depending on the needs of the students and the environment in which they are learning. It can be as simple as taking a walk in the park or as involved as building a shelter in the woods. It might be adventure learning, gardening, outdoor art, mindfulness, physical education, Forest School, class trips, and so much more. Whatever form it takes, outdoor learning is an excellent way to promote active and engaged learning.
In this blog, we will look at
1. The different definitions of outdoor learning from North and South of the border
2. The different types of outdoor learning within schools
The different definitions of outdoor learning
Education Scotland describes outdoor learning as:
Learning outdoors is about engaging children and young people in many different ways. Practitioners frequently act as facilitators, using multi-sensory and experiential approaches. This encourages children and young people to become involved in emotional, physical, aesthetic, spiritual and cognitive experiences as part of their learning.
This covers a lot, but I find it a little trick as a teacher as it does not tell me what I need to do.
The English Outdoor Council explains outdoor learning:
“is a broad term that includes: outdoor play in the early years, school grounds projects, environmental education, recreational and adventure activities, personal and social development programmes, expeditions, team building, leadership training, management development, education for sustainability, adventure therapy … and more. Outdoor Learning does not have a clearly defined boundary but it does have a common core. ”
I like this one a little more as it is clear on what I need to deliver. But here, at Love Outdoor Learning, we tend to use the definition of Curriculum Based Outdoor Learning created by Marchmont, who explains that it provides
“The opportunity for an integrated, cross-curricular approach to achieving education aims”
That is not to say there is no place for others; there is. Curriculum based outdoor learning can be an entryway. Integrate it into your practice, and then you can build upon that with more exciting projects!
The different types of outdoor learning within schools
Having visited and worked with hundreds of schools, what outdoor learning do we often see?
In no particular order, I most often see
1. Curriculum based outdoor learning
2. Forest School
3. School gardening projects
4. Loose parts
5. The Daily Mile
But what are each of these, and how can they support you?
Curriculum based outdoor learning
Curriculum-based outdoor learning is a type of outdoor learning that uses curricular materials and activities to help students learn about the world around them. It is a way of transferring learning and broadening experiences while often utilising real life skills and knowledge.
This type of outdoor learning often helps build staff confidence as it uses the knowledge they already have, the curriculum, and stems from there. I have a wee blog about this if you want to know more.
Forest School Forest school is a type of outdoor learning that utilises the natural environment to teach students about different subjects. It can include ecology, conservation, and geography and support the wider curriculum. It also helps students develop skills such as problem solving, teamwork, and creativity.
Not every school has access to a woodland, though, making this tricky. It also requires training for your staff team, making it challenging. But it is a great ethos and way to take learning outdoors.
Gardening projects can include everything from growing vegetables in a school garden to creating a sensory garden. They can teach students about plant identification, gardening skills, and plant ecology. They can also support literacy through research and maths if you use an entrepreneurial approach with your produce.
Though you need to think carefully about what you grow and when it requires harvesting, there is nothing worse than working hard and then coming back to school after the summer and the veg being past it.
I have in the past had a salad garden in class so that I can use that all year round. It is easy enough to recoup costs if you sell the veg and make this a truly sustainable project.
Loose Parts Play
Loose parts is a type of outdoor learning that often focuses on problem solving and teamwork. This type of learning can be used for things like engineering projects, making and restoring playgrounds, and more. It can cost nothing for schools to start if they plea to their community for donations of pallets, boards, pipes, crates, bricks, etc. etc. For little pieces of kit, shells, sticks, twigs, leaves (at the right time of year), stones and pebbles, you can set a homework task for children to collect these and build your stash for free.
I suggest schools train their children in risk assessing the equipment, moving and using it safely and providing ideas to get started – it can be as simple as building a boat, getting a ball from a-z etc. Like everything, children can need a little guidance and support to get them started and then they can run with it.
Storage can also be an issue for some schools, but a hut or container and teaching the children how to take the equipment out and put it away again means it can be used at break times and learning times.
The Daily Mile
This has grown hugely popular since a wee school in Scotland started it. A comprehensive study completed by the Universities of Stirling, Edinburgh and Highland and Island found that 15 minutes of self-paced exercise was beneficial for well-being and cognition. It is also great for mindfulness and building relationships.
This can be undertaken anywhere, from a field to a concrete playground, which is highly adaptable. It is free, and it is simple.
Outdoor learning provides many benefits for students. It can be a great way to engage students in learning. It offers a variety of benefits, such as increased engagement, improved academic performance, and greater understanding of the world around them. There is no one size fits all approach. You need to look at what might work within your setting and start from there. As always, if you have any questions, you only need to let us know, and we will do all we can to support you.