The potential for outdoor learning to support academic success is a view shared by many parents, teachers, and academics.
Only last year the Association of Teachers and Lecturers voted to urge the government to put gardening on the primary school curriculum, noting that doing so would be a good way to combat obesity. An outdoor based nursery that allows children to use saws and cook on open fire recently received an 'outstanding' rating from Ofsted, with the nursery abiding by the motto that ‘there is no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothing!’
Hands on learning
Groundwork has championed this idea for 35 years and during that time the charity has worked with schools to make outdoor learning a reality for their pupils and has found that nothing brings a subject to life more than giving them the opportunity to experience the environment first hand.
"The school environment is one of the most influential environments children experience,” says Groundwork’s Chief Executive, Graham Duxbury.
"After all, they spend almost half their waking day at school, they will develop social interaction skills, make or break friendships, in short, grow as people. We have found that taking lessons outdoors is extremely valuable, particularly for pupils who find the formal environment of the classroom isn’t working for them. It’s a really good way for teachers to reconnect with switched off learners." he continues.
One of the ways in which children are being introduced to outdoor learning in a school setting is through ‘forest schools’, an outdoor resource where children have regular access to an outdoor environment that provides an interactive, educational outdoor experience.
The forest school ethos promotes outdoor education that provides a stimulating experience and enables both learning and access to nature, which is a rarity for some young people, especially those who live in the inner-cities.
Groundwork supported the development of a forest school based at Manchester Communication Academy in Harpurhey.
The Moston Brook site, adjacent to the school, has helped to provide a consistent approach to outdoor education as well as helping pupils to develop confidence through hands-on learning in an outdoor setting.
To ensure that pupils were fully engaged with the project, three workshops were arranged with 20 pupils in years seven, eight and nine to allow them to experience what the forest school can offer them.
"It’s important to engage children from the get-go and the workshops were the perfect way for this to happen," says Julie Hyslop, Groundwork’s senior project officer who oversaw the development. "The space has enabled the academy to encourage outdoor learning and allowed children to connect with nature."
As well as the forest school, pupils were also involved with the academy’s on-site fruit orchard, and an ecologist from Greater Manchester Ecology Unit was involved with the workshops, giving the pupils involved professional, hands-on guidance and practical skills to maintain the trees. An outdoor classroom was also built on the Moston Brook site, allowing further opportunities for outdoor learning.
"Both the forest school and orchard have provided the pupils with a space to learn new things that they wouldn’t learn in a classroom environment," says Julie. "By encouraging this, it’s more likely that pupils will pass on their positive feedback to their peers which will help ensure that children will utilise the space for years to come."
The forest school development has helped to cement an arrangement across seven local primary and secondary schools in the area, all of which will now have access to the forest school, providing much needed outdoor resource.
"I’ve seen first-hand the benefits that come from giving children regular access to greenspace, especially those who live in inner- cities, so this agreement will help to make sure this becomes a reality," says Julie.
The subject of sustainability
If we pushed the boundaries further there is space to allow a more prominent and more powerful approach to outdoor learning that not only teaches, but inspires instil the importance of environmental sustainability into the minds of pupils.
In the Midlands, Summerbank Primary School in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, became more sustainable with the introduction of a ‘Living Green Wall’, an innovative concept that’s designed to recycle used rainwater in order to grow plants.
"We were able to teach pupils of different ages how to get involved with gardening which is good for their health and wellbeing," says Groundwork’s Sustainable Education Co-ordinator, Pundeep Kaur, who supported the school to install the green wall.
By installing the wall, pupils have been able to see the installation of a wall that’s both visually appealing and gives them an outlet for learning outdoors.
"The children really enjoyed the practical learning element of the session and the message we were trying to get across. The importance of gardening and sustainable drainage systems, was digested by the pupils amazingly.
"The first-hand experience of growing in the session is a novel and memorable way of learning. The message goes beyond Groundwork and the children we work with them to become little eco warriors who educate their peers.” Pundeep concluded.
Groundwork administers grant schemes across the UK that can help to fund outdoor learning provisions in schools.
To find out more, please see the below websites.
Tesco Bags of Help
One Stop Carriers for Causes
HS2 Community and Environment Fund
Post by Stacey Aplin, PR and Communications Officer
Parts of this blog first appeared in a Groundwork article in Education Business Magazine.