The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink many things that we consider normal, and the behaviours, attitudes, and benefits to education and outdoor learning have become a hot topic for research and debate. The evidence shows that education should no longer be conducted within the confines of the four walls of a classroom.
Selecting the best learning environment is often governed by assessing the risks of each space and children’s safety. Traditionally, this has meant that students learn indoors. However, any risk assessment conducted today must consider the Coronavirus, which pushes the scales towards outdoor learning being safer.
Learning away from the classroom is more feasible than ever before and made possible by technology becoming increasingly mobile, with desktops replaced by tablets and physical blackboards replaced with virtual ones. Furthermore, the UK government supports outdoor learning initiatives, and research shows that it is on the rise yet still underused.
According to Natural Resources Wales (RNW), they have documented a significant rise in teachers training in outdoor learning. Last month, 450 teachers enrolled in their outdoor learning and teaching programme, compared to 350 teachers for the entirety of the previous year.
We have long believed that outdoor learning promotes health, wellbeing, and personal development in children, but what does the research say?
The Impact On Children
Research conducted by RNW shows that children are happier, healthier, and perform better in school when outdoor learning forms part of the curriculum.
Outdoor environments help children develop essential skills such as negotiating risk, problem-solving, team-working, communication, and memory while making children feel more relaxed and less stressed. Students also feel a sense of freedom, are more expressive and engaged and develop positivity towards learning.
According to research conducted by Education Scotland and The University of Edinburgh, field trips and lessons conducted outside on school grounds create a 27% increase in the mastery of science concepts. The research also highlights that kids need to spend time outdoors to avoid issues such as short-sightedness. A large study found that 10% of students who spent two hours a day engaged in outdoor learning were short-sighted, compared to 30% whose education was entirely in the classroom.
Teachers feel the benefits of outdoor learning and say they feel more fulfilled with increased job satisfaction. Schools improve teacher retention rates, and parents receive children back from school that are better behaved. So, it is clear that children, parents, teachers, and schools all benefit from outdoor learning.
Getting Your Outdoor Space Ready For Learning
School grounds encourage physical activity, increase awareness of nutrition, produce children that are more civil to each other, and reduce the risks of spreading COVID-19. However, you have to get your school grounds ready for outdoor learning.
Social distancing and safety are vital, so ensure tables, chairs, and children’s picnic benches are adequately spaced apart. Ensure you use good quality outdoor garden furniture placed on solid ground. You should also set clear guidelines and rules for children covering behaviour, distancing, and the boundaries of the space, especially when they are not dictated by a physical barrier.