This academic year, outdoor learning has been a priority for us. Our rationale behind taking lessons outside is as follows:
Improved behaviour and engagement levels
Kuo, Browning, & Penner, 2018, looked at how engaged 9 and 10 year old students were after an outdoor lesson, compared to an indoor one. This study found that the number of teacher redirects (the times the teacher needed to prompt/remind the class to pay attention or stay on task) after a lesson in nature was almost half that of redirects after a classroom lesson.
Cognitive benefits and academic potential
A study by Dadvand, P et al (2015) found ‘an improvement in cognitive development associated with surrounding greenness, particularly with greenness at schools.’ This study was conducted on primary aged children and found that those who undertook cognitive tests after spending time in nature excelled in their development of working memory compared to those who were in an urban environment. They also found that inattentiveness in the children observed, reduced as a result of spending time outdoors. Proving that connecting with nature has the potential to bring about academic benefits too. Dadvand, P et al (2015): Green spaces and cognitive development in primary schoolchildren
Improving social relationships and self-esteem
A study, commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, examined 451 children across 12 areas of England who took part in outdoor activities such as identifying plants and trees. The participants completed surveys before and after the activities. The research found that following the outdoor activities, 79% of the participants found that the experience could help their schoolwork. The majority of children also believe that it could help their relationships in class, with 81% agreeing that they had better relationships with their teachers and 79% reporting better relationships with their classmates. After their activities, 84% of children said that they were capable of doing new things when they tried. Showing that spending time in nature can improve children’s confidence. UCL Institute of Education 2019: Children and Nature - A research evaluation for the Wildlife Trusts
Supporting mental health following the pandemic
A survey that took place between 6th-18th August 2020 found that 60% of children reported to have spent less time outdoors since the start of coronavirus, more than double the proportion that had spent more time outside (25%). Far fewer children were found to be spending more time outside since coronavirus started compared with adults (45% adults report spending more time outside compared to 25% of children). The survey also demonstrated the positive role of nature in supporting children’s well-being, with eight in ten (83%) of children interviewed agreeing that being in nature made them very happy
2020: The People and Nature Survey for England: Children’s survey (Experimental Statistics)
The Big One
Marchant et al 2019 conducted a study in Welsh schools to assess the benefits of outdoor learning on KS2 children. Participants in this study supported the case for outdoor learning in the KS2 curriculum, identifying benefits ranging across the personal, social, physical and curricular domains. The schools in this study reported a variety of benefits of outdoor learning for both the child and the teacher and for improving health, wellbeing, education and engagement in school. Findings highlight that outdoor learning has the ability to enthuse, engage and support children of all learning abilities in reaching curricular aims alongside positive improvements to health and wellbeing. With the relationship between education and health well documented throughout the life course, this study supports outdoor learning as a method of facilitating pupils in achieving their academic potential, improving educational experiences and attainment and ultimately improving future health outcomes and employment pathways.
One headteacher's argument for outdoor learning in this study is also an interesting point: "Every child is entitled, it’s their right to get outdoors and we have them all day, we have them for most of the daylight hours at certain times of year and so it’s our responsibility, I don’t think there’s a choice, I don’t think we can choose, shall we do it or shan’t we, we have to."