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Outdoor learning rules

Today’s kids spend half the time playing outside than their parents did, so outdoor learning at school can make all the difference. Here are 5 ways to make it happen.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the benefits of being at one with nature. University of Michigan research, for example, recently showed that just 20 minutes per day walking in natural surroundings reduces stress levels on average by 10 percent. I mean, it’s not rocket science – we all feel better for a lunchtime stroll and screen break, right? And yet children seem to spend less and less time outdoors. PE lessons are dwindling and a National Trust report found that today’s kids spend half the amount of time playing outside per week than their parents’ generation did (4 hours versus 8 hours).

With this in mind, I thought it’d be interesting to pick the brains of Christine Cook, head of Chandlings nursery and prep school in Boar’s Hill, Oxon (see my review here). Christine and her team are big on outdoor learning  – not least because they’ve got 60 acres of gorgeous grounds (including a bluebell wood) to do it in. But whether your child’s school has wide-ranging grounds or more modest outdoor space, here are Christine’s tips on why you should be checking there’s enough of it on the school curriculum.


  1. It teaches children to collaborate

Research from Kings College London shows there’s real benefits to outdoor learning, one of which is it helps children learn to work as a team. On our low ropes course, the children work together to get across, they build dens in the bluebells woods and we have a playground full of full of equipment such as poles, planks, crates, gutters and gutter stands to enable the children to develop their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills. They can problem solve while making a maze or test their design skills and agility in making and completing an obstacle course. Collaborating outdoors is different to collaborating indoors because it’s a less familiar environment than the classroom. Children have to think in different ways when there is less restriction and more flexibility.


  1. It’s brilliant for wellbeing and confidence

We recently won a National Wellbeing Award and I strongly believe that with outdoor learning boosting children’s confidence and self-esteem, it can only be a good thing for wellbeing. And of course, who doesn’t feel better being in fresh air? It can often help those children who are less academic and teachers can often be surprised by certain children who show different skills and qualities that might not be shown in the classroom. Children change when outside and those who might go with the flow inside may show more leadership skills in the fresh air. Also those who may be shy to speak in a classroom environment come out of their shells when outside offering insightful and interesting contributions to the tasks.


  1. Children (and teachers) get to be really creative

We use outdoor learning to enhance the curriculum. For example, our year 2 children launched their fire and ice topic by going up to the bluebell woods, building a fire and watching it burn. Other children were studying Cliff Hanger by Jacqueline Wilson, in which one of the themes is taking yourself out of your comfort zone. The children went outside and undertook challenges such as doing our rope course and building dens. We find all of our children love outdoor learning – they get chance to be creative and have fun at the same time. And of course it’s hugely stimulating for teachers too. When the teachers get outdoors with the children they can learn new ideas from them.


  1. Children learn how to take risks

Children are much better than we often give them credit for at self-assessing for risk. They do it outdoors at home, for example, when they use a trampoline. We talk to them about what they can do safely and what they should look out for, but we encourage age appropriate risk and use of common sense. Obviously as parents, we always try to protect and mitigate risk but it helps build resilience and confidence when they are allowed to take risks. In the woods, our pupils often have free play where they have to ask themselves things like, “Should I climb here, should I pick up this huge log, should I balance on this?”


  1. It can work in tandem with technology

Outside learning and technology needn’t be mutually exclusive. Learning outdoors is both linked to the curriculum and also to the growth of each child in a holistic way. We see it as another type of classroom. Recently children have designed benches to place around the grounds, with them voting on the winning designs. And one of our most popular initiatives is putting night cameras on trees – each class has its own tree and we show the footage once a week to see what wildlife has visited. The children see things like foxes and Muntjac deer. This week Year 1 started cheering when they heard it’s their tree’s turn to be filmed!


Open Morning on 21 Sept 2019, 10am – 12pm

Find more ideas here

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