Page 8 - Independent Schools Magazine
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Outdoor learning
~ opportunities everywhere
Schools in urban areas often feel that outdoor learning isn’t for them. But Robin Davies explains how even students in inner cities can bene t.
 It’s long been accepted that encouraging children to get out of the classroom into the great outdoors is bene cial. The idea that letting children experience nature at close quarters, allowing them to get their hands dirty and acquainting them with their environment has never been a dif cult proposition to sell.
This widely held idea has increasingly been backed up with educational evidence. According to the National Child Development Study, a longitudinal piece of research that tracks almost 10,000
people born in 1958, children who belonged to the Scouts or Guides were about 15 per cent less likely to suffer anxiety even at the age of 50. Other studies have discovered more immediate bene ts. Outdoor learning can reduce attention de cit disorder and rates of myopia among children, support wellbeing, enhance creativity and increase memory.
Accessing the great outdoors, however, is not
so easy for schools in built up areas. Which is why residential trips have become popular. They foster children’s engagement with learning by showing them why what they learn at school is important. And for inner-city children they give them an experience of the countryside many will not have had before.
Excellent though residential trips are, however, they have one obvious drawback – most schools can only access them infrequently and some not
at all. Moreover, if a school’s idea of developing character is based solely on a week away at an outdoor centre, inspectors and others could well ask what it is doing to support and nurture it for the rest of the year.
Outdoor learning done well should not be a  ash in the pan – and it can be done well in cities as much as in the countryside. To inculcate wellbeing and develop academic potential, whatever is learnt outside has to be linked
back to what is learnt inside. There has to be a seamless weave between the activities children pursue outdoors and the curriculum taught
in the classroom, otherwise whatever bene ts students derive can be easily lost.
At the heart of outdoor learning is a paradox
– the opportunities are endless, however,
the curriculum’s learning objectives can be prescriptive and  nite. Ideally teachers should take the opportunities offered when they arise
– if it’s a sunny day, out into the playground their class can go. However, to be effective
this seeming spontaneity should be planned. Everything teachers do outdoors or on a trip should be aligned to their students’ learning, otherwise back in the classroom the lessons learnt just  zzle away. This means teachers have to plan beforehand what they wish to teach. It also means the SLT have to be astute enough to oversee the full framework of trips across
year groups and subjects to ensure a tightly woven fabric of learning.
In urban areas planning can require more negotiation and creativity – transport is more complicated, open areas are less accessible. But they do exist. Teachers may not be able to go
the full Bear Grylls in major cities– but they can usually access local parks. They can organise a
trip to a museum or to a theatre or even the local post of ce. If that isn’t always an option, they can use outdoor learning nearer to home. They can ask their children to measure plants in the school garden if they have one, or to read Macbeth in the playground as it was originally performed – in the open air.
Of course, outdoor learning, especially for
older students, often falls victim to curriculum pressures. But if it is seen as a necessary complement to the curriculum rather than an accessory to it, and even better, hitting learning objectives from two or three subjects at the same time, it becomes a lot easier to do.
At its best, outdoor learning contextualises theoretical learning. Maths students trying to understand volume, for instance, will most likely learn it better if they are allowed to measure water in containers in the playground. And
that lesson can be learnt as easily in London or Manchester as it can in Surrey or Hampshire.
  Robin Davies is Assistant Director of Education at the Cognita Group of schools.
 Tree planting initiative
Pupils from The Study School, Surrey, took the classroom outdoors as they planted free trees from the Woodland Trust with the Deputy Mayor of Kingston, Cllr Mike Head in Green Lane Recreational Park, New Malden.
The school successfully applied for a Copse pack of 30 silver birch, rowan and wild cherry trees from the Trust after hearing about the scheme from a TV advert.
Ciarán Mc Auley, Deputy Head Teacher from The Study School, said: “The students get a sense of purpose, a sense of ownership, they are doing something for themselves, their school, their local community and they really enjoy that. We decided to plant the trees in Green Lane as
a memorial to those who died in World War 1 and we were lucky to have Cllr Ken Smith who
is also Chairman of Malden and Coombe Royal British Legion, to talk to the children about the signi cance of World War 1 and the work the British Legion does to support veterans.”
The Woodland Trust’s Schools and Community Engagement Manager Karen Letten said: “Trees create inspiring learning spaces - natural, sustainable, and dynamic outdoor classrooms where pupils can mix mud with maths and spades with science while connecting with nature and having fun. It’s these lessons that the children will remember well into adulthood.”
Woodland Trust commissioned research shows that primary age children who plant trees felt that they were ‘doing their bit’ to help the environment and remember it as a signi cant experience.
Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is supporting the Trust to deliver 400,000 trees to primary schools in England over four years.
Schools can apply by visiting the Woodland Trust website or searching for ‘school tree packs’ on-line. Trees are delivered twice a year, in March and November.
  8 Independent Schools Magazine
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