Andy Robinson CEO of the Institute for Outdoor Learning writes about the importance of outdoor learning.
The Department for Education is currently reviewing the National Curriculum seeking to improve the core skills and knowledge amongst school age children. Given the innovative approach to incorporating learning for sustainability and the use of the outdoors that is being developed by the Scottish Government the limited reference to these issues in the current DfE proposal is disappointing.
If you’re interested in how the Scottish Government is integrating the outdoors into teaching see their helpful guidance to teachers. Essentially this guidance points to outdoor learning as a vehicle for many subject areas, rather than a discipline within the PE or Geography curriculum. ‘All aspects of the curriculum can be explored outside. The sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors, the closeness to nature, the excitement most children feel, the wonder and curiosity all serve to enhance and stimulate learning.’
So why should we be pushing Government to provide clear guidance on the effective use of outdoor learning and to train teachers up to enable them to incorporate use of the outdoors into their lessons ? Here are a couple of reasons quite apart from the enhancement of learning.
The World Wildlife Fund’s 2012 Living Planet Report shows that globally, humanity is currently using 50% more resources than the planet can sustain. The issue of sustainability may be one that the current generation feel able to file under ‘too hard to deal with’ but it is surely one that we must at a minimum start helping the next generation prepare for. Exploring the issues around the sustainability of our relationships with the natural world becomes a memorable and meaningful lesson when based in the natural world rather than the classroom.
The outdoors also provides a wealth of opportunities for children to learn about risk, recognise it and develop ways of managing it. To quote Judith Hackitt, the Chair of the Health & Safety Executive “The next generation is tomorrow’s workforce. Helping young people to experience and handle risk is part of preparing them for adult life and the world of work. Young people can gain this experience from participating in challenging and exciting outdoor events made possible by organisations prepared to adopt a common sense and proportionate approach that balances benefits and risk.” ¹
The activities that the schools use do not need to be so adventurous that the teacher requires expert help. Bug hunts in the school grounds or local park or orienteering in similar environments are manageable by many teachers. A wealth of resources and help is available from more experienced outdoor practitioners. Some schools have developed a progressive approach to accessing outdoor learning starting with exploring nature in the school grounds through experimenting with water filtration in the local stream and moving on to incorporating initiatives like Duke of Edinburgh’s Award or John Muir Award so the students gain recognition as well as learning.
¹ Quoted in ‘Nothing Ventured…..balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors’, an excellent publication by Tim Gill that debunks some commonly held myths about outdoor adventurous activities for school.
The Institute for Outdoor Learning is the UK wide professional body for outdoor learning practitioners. As a charity its primary objects are to develop standards in outdoor learning and promote access to all forms of outdoor learning. If you are interested in supporting or participating in the work of the institute please contact us at 01228 564580 or visit our website www.outdoor-learning.org