Friday, 20 May 2016

The Truth About Outdoor Learning

At SOuL work with a huge number of independent and state schools across the UK. We‘re seeing a huge variety in appetite and application of an... 

Outdoor Learning Agenda 

We see examples where schools have embraced outdoor learning to the extent that its part of their culture and bloodstream. 

Inner city students keep wellies and waterproofs neatly stowed, prepared at the drop of a hat to go outside for forest school activities, visit the poly tunnel, feed the chickens, engage in play, learn about maths, english, science or any core subject using the school grounds to be the inspiration 

Or just the location to enjoy the learning. 

Yet we also meet the teachers who are struggling to find the time, the space and to know “how” to do things outside and who don’t see what all the fuss is about.

In the 2008 “Learning Outside the Classroom” Ofsted study they cited conclusively that “all of the schools surveyed provided exciting, direct and relevant learning activities outside the classroom. Such hands on activities led to...

Improved Outcomes For Pupils

Including better achievement, standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour.”

The survey also found examples of the positive effects of learning outside the classroom on young people who were hard to motivate.

Yet this is the tip of the iceberg more recent studies are bringing to light all sorts of benefits for young people and staff alike in terms of reducing stress, increasing focus, boosting seratonin, increased empathy and emotional stability, increased physical movement and improved psychological wellbeing. 

US author Richard Louv argues that children and adults alike are suffering with a phenomenon he calls “nature deficit disorder” and sensory dysfunction resulting in more of us feeling less alive.

Beyond all of this evidence and opinion our experience at SOuL has taught us the following benefits of taking your lessons outside:

1. Engaging More Learners

It’s amazing how many teachers report an improvement in behaviour from those young people who struggle to concentrate within the classroom. 

As Sir Ken Robinson attests in his book Out of Our Minds 

“classrooms are a great environment to teach in but not always to learn in.” 

Evidence in neuroscience tells us that we are designed to learn whilst moving, as the school year draws to an end and the weather is nice outside and all they want to do it burn off energy why not take learning outside and let them do just that?  

Take maths outside and have children estimate then time how long it would take to run, hop and skip across a field.  They can discuss it outdoors and graph it back in the classroom.

2. Giving Learning Context

By taking your lessons outside you’ll find creative opportunities to make learning concepts, real and relevant by putting them into a more realistic context.  

For example with a few planks and blocks you could explore weights and levers and complex physics concepts with pupils stood on and among the equipment. 

Concepts which seem difficult to get a grasp of in the classroom easier to understand in the big wide world when they’re set in context, and when the children are more engaged and motivated to understand and learn.

3. Nurture Creativity And Imagination

As one teacher on a recent workshop said “if I’m outside I’ll be in a completely different frame of mind than when I’m inside”. 

Taking learners outside is like opening up a world of possibilities.  Suddenly their minds are free to explore and you can often end up with some very creative results no matter what subject you’re teaching them.

For example instead of learning about history in the classroom why not bury some objects in a patch of Earth enabling the children to become Archaeologists and dig these treasures up for themselves?  

You’ll be amazed at how their imaginations run wild.

4. Range Of Human Intelligence

In an outdoor setting we get to experience and observe our pupils demonstrate often a completely different set of competences. 

Teachers constantly remark how useful these experiences are for the young people who don’t ace every test. 

We see as Gardener states in Frames of Mind “multiple intelligences” such as linguistic, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic along with logical which is more keenly highlighted in the traditional IQ test. 

Other researchers highlight creativity and emotional as key areas of intelligence sometimes overlooked yet they display beautifully in this outdoor context. 

As educators this can help us appreciate and value a greater diversity of the talents our pupils embody.

5. Learning Through Play 

Play is a childs natural way of finding the balance between learning with fun. We all know that children learn more when they’re happy and engaged. 

Playtime serves as a “jungle gym” where children can cultivate their inner inventors, scientists, artists, adventurers and friendships.  

Experimenting and doing is a fantastic way to learn – very young children learn a huge amount about volume and textures by simple things like sand and water play, whilst older children will enjoy becoming nature detectives and learning about minibeasts and their habitats.
6. Connection With The Environment 

A deputy head from a Primary in Sale recently told me how when they first implemented time in the organic garden for their KS1 pupils the children started by trashing the place! 

After behavioural expectations had been set and they started to learn and study this environment they began to respect the flowers and insects. They would walk near and be careful about stepping on the specimens they now marvel at.

7. Keep Healthy

Even if you’re just going to work a few feet from the confines of your classroom, well directed outdoor learning opportunities can offer a great opportunity for fresh air and exercise.  

Even pupils who aren’t much interested in PE can usually be tempted by a fun learning game without the pressure of needing to ‘win’.

8. Limitless Resources

One of the key benefits of learning outside is that you have the most amazingly well resourced stock cupboard you could hope for – and a lot of it is free.  

No matter how tight your school’s budget, so long as you have a good imagination you’ll be able to develop free, meaningful learning opportunities for your children that will stick with them.

So what are you waiting for – it’s time to get outside… though you might need to take an umbrella or two!

9. Growth Mindset

Mistakes Are Brilliant! We are increasingly aware that schools across the UK are embracing the work of Carol Dweck and integrating it into their daily lessons and school culture. 

Outdoor learning particularly lends itself to emphasising the importance of a growth mindset. When outside participating in any task we often go through a process of trial and error. 

For example, when constructing and operating giant weights and levers in an outdoor science lesson, difficulty rarely leads to a pupil stating “I’m no good at doing science outside!” 

Rather they haven’t done it correctly yet! 

With a little trial and error they will get there. 

It’s the same whether you are lighting a fire, building a shelter or creating a piece of artwork, the skills come with practice and effort rather then being innate or about 'natural talent'.

Step outside (your comfort zone)!

If you are reading this and thinking “this sounds great but I don’t have the time and what exactly am I supposed to do when I take my class outside?" 

Then we have three lesson plans for June from our blog that can be applied to a host of core subjects for June for you to pick up and run with.

If you are wondering where you might do this then take a look at our blog post on utilising your school grounds at low cost.

To learn how to successfully implement learning outside the classroom then join our one day workshops coming this Autumn term, 

CLICK HERE for more info 

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