Education is not just imparting knowledge within the four walls of a classroom, with a much wider and broader role in the society at large. According to an article published on the World Economic Forum website, outdoor school settings are not only conducive for the overall development of children but also help in developing a wide array of skill set among students such as problem-solving or negotiating risks.
Unfortunately, in the present times, children lack the opportunity to access education in natural settings and spend less time outside classroom milieu due to numerous concerns including crime, parental apprehensions, safety and traffic just to name a few. Modern schooling environment has reduced access of children to open green spaces, regardless of the responsibility of schools to provide more access to natural environments to their students for their mental as well as physical wellbeing. This definitely does not mean allocating more time to PE lessons or break times for students.
Teachers across the UK were now delivering curriculum-based lessons in school grounds and local areas to get more children outdoors. Although no official statistics were present to highlight how outdoor learning was being used at schools across the UK, researchers, however, have pinpointed that its use was increasing manifold. And while it was not part of the country’s curricula for year three onwards in primary schools, these outdoor initiatives were supported for all age groups by the UK government, which had invested in the Natural Connections project administered by Plymouth University, for instance, and Nature-Friendly Schools administered by The Wildlife Trusts.
Researchers claim that despite the support by the government, outdoor learning was still underused in primary schools, particularly for students in the latter years (between seven and 11). The article also mentioned the findings of a recent study related to the impact of outdoor settings on student learning. The study found outdoor settings allowed students to exercise a sense of freedom, allowing them to express themselves, while enjoying and increasing mobility outside the traditional classroom setting. Pupils were more engaged in the learning process and regarded the overall experience more positive. The teacher respondents also felt an increasing sense of job satisfaction in outdoor settings and had a positive impact on the overall wellbeing of teachers, leading to the creation of stable environments where students could learn and thrive at the same time.
However, some teacher respondents also had concerns over pupil safety, but added that students were more respectful towards the clear rules and boundaries sketched by their teachers after settling in the outdoor milieu. The results of the study also highlighted that one of the major reasons for not choosing outdoor settings by teachers was the inability to measure or access the learning outcomes for pupils. Funding was also a vital concern as additional teacher training, equipment and outdoor clothing were needed.
The results also highlighted that teachers considered outdoor learning more engaging for all types of learners and felt each pupil had the right to be outdoors, particularly when access to the natural environment was limited and schools were doing nothing to fill this void.
The study titled, “Curriculum-based outdoor learning for children aged 9-11: A qualitative analysis of pupils’ and teachers’ views,” that published in the PLOS One journal deduced results through interviews and focus groups, where teachers and pupils were asked to express their opinions on outdoor learning. The participants of the study were also a part of the HAPPEN project, a primary school health and education network. The educators and students involved in the study engaged in outdoor learning and were categorized as the ones who were taught the curriculum in natural settings for at least an hour a week.