Are Outdoor Lessons Just A Distraction? - Head's Blog

Posted on: 14/06/2019



A recent article in the Times Educational Supplement, which I highly recommend that parents read,  reaffirms the belief which we have here at St. Helen’s College about the benefits of learning in the great outdoors.

A couple of years ago, Miss Walker as part of her professional studies further engaged our staff with ‘outdoor learning’ across the curriculum and it has been so wonderful to hear the feedback both from children and staff of the benefits of taking their subjects outside. 

On a daily basis we have pupils across the school using our outdoor spaces for learning and I am always delighted when the pupils are able to articulate what they have learnt with not a textbook or school desk in site! 

Traditionally many schools felt that the best learning was conducted in a classroom environment with a very structured curriculum directed by the teacher.  Thankfully, due to all the valuable evidence research which has been carried out, educationalists are now so aware of the benefits, not only academic but social and emotional, which outdoor lessons provide.

Our EYFS pupils in Ducklings through to Reception spend a great deal of time in the outdoors and the best practice can often be found amongst Early Years practitioners.  Last week I spent 3 days as a member of the Independent Schools Inspectorate inspecting the educational quality of a school. The inspection team had to gather evidence on the pupil outcomes in relation to academic achievement and progress as well as their personal development. Much of the evidence was sourced by the team in the great outdoors!

Below I have extracted an example from the independent schools regulatory standards of some of the areas which schools must be seen to be fulfilling.  As you read the list below I hope that you will be able to visualise your son or daughter (from Ducklings to Year 6) actively learning in the outdoors - as this is where much of this wonderful rich learning is taking place!

Pupils’ academic and other achievements

Knowledge, skills and understanding (KSU); the development of their knowledge, understanding and skills across the areas of learning (linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, human and social, physical and aesthetic and creative education.

Communication; the development of their competence in communication (speaking, listening, reading and writing) and its application to other areas of learning.

Numeracy; the development of their competence in numeracy and the application of their knowledge and skills in mathematics to other areas of learning.

Study skills; the development of their study skills, including the ability to draw upon a suitably wide range of sources and to develop higher-order skills, including the ability to analyse, hypothesise and synthesise.

Attitudes; their attitudes towards learning, including their ability to demonstrate initiative and independence, their willingness to work collaboratively and the extent to which they take leadership in their learning.

Pupils’ personal development

Self-understanding; develop their self-knowledge, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline and resilience, including an understanding of how to improve their own learning and performance, so that they are well prepared for the next stage of their lives.

Decision-making; understand that the decisions they make are important determinants of their own success and well-being.

Spiritual understanding; develop spiritual understanding and an appreciation of non-material aspects of life, whether religious, philosophical or other.

Moral understanding and responsibility for own behaviour; distinguish right from wrong, understand and respect systems of rules and laws, and accept responsibility for their own behaviour, including towards others.

Social development and collaboration; are socially aware and so are able to work effectively with others, including to solve problems and achieve common goals.

Staying safe and keeping healthy; know how to stay safe and understand how to be physically and mentally healthy, particularly in terms of diet, exercise and a balanced lifestyle.

Our day trips and residential trips, which are such an important part of our educational provision, allow your children to achieve so much academically and personally and it has been wonderful to receive such positive feedback form the parent body recently as our Year 3 to Year 6 pupils have all returned from this year’s trips. The recognition of the pupils' personal development is quite remarkable with comments such as:

‘he really seems to have grown up in such a short time!’

‘She is so much more independent and took risks we never imagined she would take’

‘I cannot believe my daughter was rolling about in mud and loved it so much!’

‘He genuinely seems more organised and considerate since he came back’

‘ He hasn’t stopped talking about the trip - every day we seem to hear something else!’

As a school when we receive such positive feedback from parents after the residential trips it is so rewarding and makes our jobs even more enjoyable, knowing the difference that we make to a child’s development.

Education should be rich in experiences and prepare young people for the future. All the experiences that your children are having in the outdoors  are contributed to by the lessons the teachers are planning, the trips and activities they have the opportunity to take part in and of course the superb outdoor space we have at school.

Experiences bring us happiness not just when we’re having the experience, but also when we simply think about them. I am sure that you have seen your child’s face light up when they talk about some of the things they have done outside of the normal classroom environment.

Many of you are possibly starting to plan some of the things that you may be able to do with your children over the summer holidays.  So please do continue the ‘outdoor’ learning for the children, giving them the opportunity to explore the great outdoors - it is called the ‘great’ outdoors for a reason!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.” — Mark Twain

Mrs. Drummond