At no time has it been more important to make use of our playgrounds and local outdoor areas as schools begin to plan for more of their pupils to return. As part of the support offered to schools by Waltham Forest council, the team at Suntrap Forest Centre are providing training, consultancy and curriculum linked ideas to help make regular outdoor learning the norm.
For over 50 years Suntrap as an educational environmental centre has been a staunch ambassador for outdoor learning; influenced by research which shows that teaching and learning outdoors has been found to have a positive impact on both teachers' and pupils' mental wellbeing, as well as having a positive impact on cognition, learning and engagement.
In the transition from lockdown to schools welcoming back more pupils, this approach will help keep both pupils and school staff safe. It is easier to social distance in large outdoor spaces; especially with fewer shared objects or surfaces. In addition, it is thought that Covid-19 spreads more easily indoors, and that UV from sunlight kills viruses more quickly on surfaces. However, outdoor learning is so much more than infection control.
Research has found outdoor learning taking place in the participant’s school grounds or community may result in greater confidence, renewed pride in community, stronger motivation towards learning and a greater sense of belonging and responsibility. In addition, outdoor education makes other school subjects rich and relevant and gets apathetic students excited about learning. Outdoor practitioners are highly skilled and have often spent years studying and developing their practice, this needs to be taken into consideration. It would be unreasonable to simply expect mainstream teachers to adapt overnight.
Teachers may need extra training to develop the confidence to deliver lessons.
On our website to support school staff, we’ve put a wide range of curriculum based outdoor learning activity ideas. Also, on offer, free for all Waltham Forest schools, is a consultancy and training service.
A video has been produced which provides some strategies, hopefully watching this will be the first step in developing the confidence to deliver the school curriculum through outdoor learning.
Review of the research evidence in relation to the role of trees and woods in formal education and learning Rebecca Lovell, Liz O’Brien, Roz Owen 2010
Understanding the diverse benefits of learning in natural environments Justin Dillon, Kings College London 2011