The Leading Magazine for Primary Educators
Are Kids Being Kept Indoors Because You, Not Them, Don’t Fancy The Weather?
Main Subject: CPD
Subject: Outdoor learning
Author: Sue Cowley
Is the rain really stopping children from learning outdoors? It’s time to let your lessons breathe in the fresh air
As the days get longer, the weather (hopefully) gets warmer, and fresh green growth appears all around us, the idea of taking your children outside to learn becomes ever more appealing.
But in the same spirit as the old advertising slogan “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas”, so outdoor learning can be a perennial activity, and not just for spring and summer.
The forest school movement that began in Scandinavia has started to take root in the UK, with more and more primary schools holding forest school sessions for their children. And as we place a greater emphasis on resilience and mindfulness, the benefits of learning in the great outdoors are increasingly
When children venture outside to learn, this offers more than just cognitive and social or emotional benefits – it has health and physical benefits as well. There has been a worrying decrease in children’s activity levels in recent years, an obesity crisis is looming, and ‘too much screen time’ is a problem outside of school. But by taking your children outside for at least part of their learning you can help to counter these issues. For children raised in an urban environment, contact with the great outdoors is even more important and powerful.
At St Ninian’s Primary school in Stirling, the headteacher started a scheme where the children walk or run for a mile every day. The school reports that the children’s fitness, behaviour and concentration have all improved as a result.
The British weather being what it is, it can be hard to persuade parents (and indeed staff) that children spending lots of time in the great outdoors is a jolly good thing. But as the Scandinavians are fond of pointing out, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Interestingly, complaints will rarely be heard from children, who seem perfectly happy to dash around outdoors in a thin polo shirt when it is minus five degrees and snowing. With the right preparations and equipment, there is no need to be afraid of outdoor learning. Invest in full-length waterproof suits for children and waterproof trousers for adults, add plenty of warm layers, and take along a tarpaulin to shelter under if it rains (which, inevitably, it will).
Make sure that you have plenty of kindling to start a fire if it is cold, and to make hot drinks to warm you up. At our early years setting, our two, three and four year olds go outdoors for a full day’s forest school session once a week – come rain, shine, wind, hail or snow.
The great outdoors is the perfect environment for many types of learning. Outside there are risks aplenty – a stick could jab someone in the eye, so you must learn to carry it pointing low; you could slip in the mud, so you must learn to tread with care; some plants are poisonous, so you must learn to identify each one. The most powerful impact of outdoor learning comes from watching children grow in confidence and resilience, as they encounter challenges and risks. For me, there was something very powerful about seeing a small child standing at the foot of a muddy bank, twice as tall as she was, digging her hands into the mud, grasping hold of tree roots, and dragging her tiny body up the slope.
If you don’t have a forest that you can visit, a great way to help your children learn outdoors is to get them to sow and grow their own flowers, fruits and vegetables. The Royal Horticultural Society set up the Campaign for School Gardening to support schools to do more gardening with children (schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk ).
Don’t worry if you don’t have a garden at the moment – you can grow most plants in containers, or you can build a garden of your own. At our setting we built one for the children on a scrubby patch of unused land, with the help of parents, volunteers and local businesses. Finally, it’s important to remember that ‘outdoor learning’ is about learning in the outdoors, and not simply about relocating a handful of desks and chairs into your playground. Step outdoors, breathe in the fresh air, hear the birdsong, feel the wind on your face, and be inspired.